Iraq abuse inquiry firm referred to SDT

Topics: Regulation and compliance,Human rights

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One of two firms investigated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority for its role in allegations of British army abuses in Iraq revealed today that it had been referred to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal.

London personal injury and clinical negligence firm Leigh Day said that it 'strongly denies' allegations made by the SRA. 

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The firm was one of two probed by the SRA after the five-year Al-Sweady inquiry into allegations reported that witnesses had given evidence that was 'unprincipled in the extreme' and 'wholly without regard to the truth'. The other firm was Birmingham and London-based Public Interest Lawyers. 

Paul Philip, SRA chief executive, said today: 'Our investigation into the two law firms involved in the Al-Sweady inquiry has meant the review of very significant amounts of complex evidence. We have now referred one of the firms and a number of individual solicitors to the independent SDT. We will be making a decision on the other firm in the near future.'

Philip said he could not name the firms 'unless the SDT agrees that there is a case to answer'. However in a lengthy statement today, Leigh Day described the referral as ‘premature’. 

A spokesperson said: ‘Leigh Day stands full square behind the work we have been involved in over the last 10 years to assist Iraqis who have claims in relation to abuse they say they have suffered. No one is above the law, not us, not the British army and not the government. This is the British rule of law in action and is surely what our soldiers fight to defend. 

‘The great majority of the claims that we have brought against the Ministry of Defence which have concluded have been successful. The few claims that have failed are proof that the system is working.

‘Leigh Day has taken care to operate within the rules governing solicitors in terms of how it obtained work from Iraqi clients. We refute all of the allegations that have been made against us.’ 

Philip said that Leigh Day has had more than four months to respond to allegations, and then a further seven weeks to respond to additional allegations. ‘They have not as yet responded to either set.’ 

He added: ‘These are serious allegations and there is a clear public interest in resolving this matter as quickly as possible. Therefore we have referred Leigh Day, and a number of individual solicitors, to the independent Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal. It is now for the tribunal to decide to hear the allegations and decide what course of action to take.’

Meanwhile, an organisation representing former members of the armed forces today called for civil courts to lose their jurisdiction over claims brought against personnel on active service. 

UK Veterans One Voice handed in a letter to the prime minister urging him to 'stop the witch-hunt' that armed forces personnel now face 'on a daily basis'.

The protest (pictured) comes against a background of mounting anger in the armed forces over the activities of law firms handling claims of abuse concerning British forces in Iraq, the jailing of Royal Marine Alexander Blackman for murder in 2013, and the threat of prosecutions of members of the Parachute Regiment over the 1972 Bloody Sunday killings in Northern Ireland. 

Readers' comments (30)

  • Young men trained as killers but then society expects them to be social workers. Nobody is above the law but policy in this area must mature to accommodate the realities of the battlefield

    On the allegations of misconduct perhaps those who might condemn the behaviour of certain law firms handling class actions should reflect, that shallow politicians want lawyers to sell legal services like baked beans but at the same time still require adherence to high ethical standards. Muddled thinking and hypocrisy at the heart of policy

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  • How can it possibly make sense to apply the principles of our peacetime criminal and civil law to the battlefield?

    Many people think the HRA makes no sense in peacetime anyway.

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  • I would imagine it's more than a bunch of servicemen who are gobbling down a huge platter of Schadenfreude at this news...

    I, and I am sure many other Solicitors up and down the country, am ashamed at the activities of these so-called 'Human Rights' lawyers, noses in the trough of the legal aid fund.

    Yet how many silly awards do these folks get garlanded with by our leaders at 113...?

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  • So, here we have a successful firm acting for people who say their rights, given by Parliament, have been infringed.

    Those people are entitled to have their cases heard in a court, and this firm acts for them to do so.

    That firm is then accused of misconduct by that well known fair and just body, the SRA.

    Members of the profession, many of whom have decried the conduct of the SRA, are then jubilant. Amazing!

    How about innocent until proven guilty? Would there be jubilation if say, the solicitors to the Birmingham Six were accused of misconduct?

    An accusation is simply that, an accusation. I would suggest that one by the tainted SRA should be treated with extreme scepticism...even if we don't like the accused!

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  • @Marshall Hall 6 January 2016 09:47 am

    I would imagine it's more than a bunch of servicemen who are gobbling down a huge platter of Schadenfreude at this news...

    "....I, and I am sure many other Solicitors up and down the country, am ashamed at the activities of these so-called 'Human Rights' lawyers, noses in the trough of the legal aid fund.

    Yet how many silly awards do these folks get garlanded with by our leaders at 113...? ..."

    This is the problem surely? The 'profession' had natural supervision under the Companies Act 1969 (also ditto other 'Professions' as well), when the numbers of partners were restricted to ten. Enough to get around a dining table once a week and ensure there was no skulduggery going on.

    The larger the firm the more opportunities for misplaced construction and enthusiasm of what is a professional firm's behaviour and what is professional and ethical behaviour at that firm.

    Its all culture stupid ..... and internal supervision.

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  • Ever the sceptic I wonder whether this action is politically motivated to scare the human rights lawyers away from this area or work?

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  • I do not know enough about all this to make a valid comment on whether the SRA/SDT should be involved in this.

    What I will say is that we Solicitors do not make the law. We apply it. If there is a problem then parliament will solve it for better or worse. But "noses in the trough" comments and "couldn't happen to a nicer firm" are not warranted.

    My view is that if Legal Aid is being abused then it is the LAA who are to blame for allowing it to be abused. The firm is using LA to assist where assistance is deemed to be needed. The fact that LD and the other have used practices that may not be befitting to a Law Firm generally to attract such cases should not be a reason to be reported. Do ABS's have such a moral compass that they would not do the same to make money...

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  • Remember the area committees? Staffed in the main by volunteers?

    That sifted cases......

    Halcyon days .......

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  • I completely disagree with Anon at 10.41. Yes if LA is being abused, the LAA need to act, but by the same token, if a firm is found to be acting in ways that go against the code of conduct then surely it is for the SRA to refer them to the SDT. The reference to ABS is a red herring, in my view - if solicitor members of such an entity is found similarly to have acted inappropriately, then similar action should also be taken. You can't expect society to accord you the rights and privileges of a professional without being subject to suitably high standards.

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  • Dennis

    What particular rights and privileges do professions now enjoy?

    More liabilities and onerous duties, than rights and privileges is the reality. Society only wants the duties without giving the rights; the concept of profession is dead, it should now be decently buried.

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