A judge overseeing cases arising from abuse claims over the Iraq war has accused the law firm representing civilians of misleading the court.
Mr Justice Leggatt (pictured) questioned the integrity of Birmingham- and London-based Public Interest Lawyers (PIL) in handling a case on behalf of the father of a 13-year-old Iraqi, Jaafar Majeed Muhyi, killed in 2003.
Leggatt said the firm failed to pick up on inconsistencies in the account of the death and had failed to inform the body tasked with investigating claims that evidence had changed.
The damning judgment was published on the same day that PIL confirmed it had been referred to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal for a decision on whether to prosecute in relation to its conduct in the Al-Sweady claims.
The claimant in Al Saadoon & Ors v Secretary of State for Defence contended he had a right to have allegations of unlawful killing or other human rights violations investigated.
PIL sought a judicial review on behalf of the boy's father, based on an allegation made in an unsigned witness statement from 2004, which Muhyi later said was not correct.
Leggatt said the claim was not credible and could be dismissed, but he could not let the matter pass without recording his concerns about the way the claim had been handled.
At the start of July 2015, one of the claimant’s team of four counsel noticed and pointed out to PIL that the latest allegation was different from the one made in 2004.
Leggatt said: ‘In those circumstances no responsible lawyer aware of the 2013 witness statement and conscious of their duties to their client and the court would have felt able to advance the original allegation as if it were their client’s current case unless they had first raised the inconsistency with Mr Muhyi and received instructions from him that the 2013 witness statement was erroneous and that he believed the allegation made in the original unsigned statement to be true.
‘That, however, was exactly what the claimant’s legal team did.’
The judge said the case was put forward without any fresh instructions and ‘misled’ the court.
‘They also caused the secretary of state to incur the trouble and expense of preparing evidence and argument in response to a claim for which there was no proper basis. This was not a brief aberration, quickly corrected. The claimant’s legal representatives persisted in this course of action for over three months before disclosing the true position in early October 2015.’
The court heard in response to criminal allegations arising out of British military involvement in Iraq, the defence secretary established the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT), which has up to 150 personnel and will have received up to £57.2m in funding by the end of 2019.
Leggatt, the designated judge overseeing the inquiries, said that in early 2015 he was concerned at the lack of new information published by IHAT, with evidence showing investigations were concluded in 19 of the 53 cases on its books.
But from November 2014 to April 2015, the IHAT caseload increased to 762 claims, with up to 1,000 further allegations not yet formally allocated. Claimant numbers grew to 1,268 by April 2015. With four claims selected for test cases, the Ministry of Justice applied a dismissal order.
Leggatt said that as a general rule IHAT can decline to investigate an allegation unless it is supported by a witness statement signed by the claimant and giving the claimant’s own recollection of the relevant events.