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.
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.