The Solicitors Regulation Authority is to contest Leigh Day's exoneration on misconduct charges brought in connection with claims brought over allegations over British forces’ behaviour in Iraq.
The regulator confirmed its intention to take proceedings to the High Court during a Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal hearing yesterday, the Gazette can reveal.
Leigh Day, which was cleared of misconduct along with three of its solicitors, has applied for the SRA to pay 60% of its final costs bill. Initial estimates suggest the firm has incurred £7.8m defending itself so far. The firm applied for an interim £1.5m payment on account during yesterday’s hearing, but the SRA contested this partly on the grounds it will appeal the overall decision.
Timothy Dutton QC of Fountain Court Chambers, representing the SRA, said the appeal will be based both on points of law and contesting the tribunal’s judgment.
He gave an indication that the SRA would rely on the fact that one tribunal member dissented on some of the charges and thought they should have been found proven. The SRA will also argue that separate, but in its opinion linked, charges relating to Public Interest Lawyers director Phil Shiner – who worked in conjunction with Leigh Day – were found proven at SDT.
Dutton added: ‘In these circumstances an appeal clearly has prospects of success, particularly in circumstances where a fellow tribunal has unanimously found matters proved against Mr Shiner.’
Addressing the two tribunal members who cleared Leigh Day, Dutton said: ‘The [High Court] is in the primary best position to deal with matters of law. There will be an appeal on matters of law as well as judgment, particularly in circumstances where four tribunal members have agreed with the SRA which puts you [the two tribunal members who cleared Leigh Day] in the minority.’
Dutton said the SRA’s costs – understood to be around £1.5m – were significantly lower than those incurred by Leigh Day, and the regulator had yet to see a breakdown of elements of the firm’s costs.
He said allegations were properly brought and pursued, and seen through to their conclusion. If the respondents had objected to any allegations, he noted, it was open to them to apply for a strike-out, but that option was never taken.
The QC said the prosecution was not ‘pointless’ and that a solicitor only had ‘herself or himself to blame’ if they exchanged emails using the word ‘bribe’ – as formed the basis for certain allegations.
‘It was palpably in the public interest to bring allegations against these respondents,’ said Dutton. ‘The objective bystander would have been concerned if the regulator had not brought these proceedings.’
Leigh Day, along with senior partner Martyn Day, partner Sapna Malik and solicitor Anna Crowther, were cleared of a total of 20 charges in June.
The SRA rejects the idea it should pay any of the defence costs, but the firm says the SRA ‘grossly over-prosecuted’ the case in general, behaving in a way that ‘lacked transparency, and taking an over-the-top, unrealistic, oppressive and disproportionate approach’.
The SDT hearing continues.