Lawyers overseeing claims for Iraqi civilians against the British Army failed to respond to suggestions bribes may have been paid, a tribunal has heard.
Leigh Day partners Martyn Day and Sapna Malik both received emails which contained the word ‘bribe’ in relation to payments made for helping clients to explain their cases.
The SRA told the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal that it was not alleged any bribes were in fact paid or authorised, but that experienced lawyers should have investigated what payments were actually being made.
The tribunal heard that Leigh Day was required to pay expenses such as passport costs and reimbursing clients for lost earnings when they travelled outside Iraq to outline their claims to legal representatives. The payments were handled by an intermediary.
Timothy Dutton QC, prosecuting, said Malik received one email from a colleague which used the word ‘bribes’, and the solicitor responded to urge her to be careful how such phrases would look to outsiders.
Dutton said: ‘If [Malik’s] state of mind was ‘I never believed these were bribes’, she would have said ‘what are you talking about? We never pay bribes and these were properly vouched for payments’.
‘What she didn’t want was that language to get into the hands of the Ministry of Defence [the defendant in the claims].’
The tribunal heard on an earlier occasion that Day had received an email from Public Interest Lawyers director Phil Shiner, working alongside Leigh Day on the claims, to say there were concerns payments looked like bribes.
Dutton added: ‘A solicitor in Mr Day’s position receiving such an email, if acting properly, would say ‘just a minute, I am not prepared to authorise payments which may be disguised bribes’.
Earlier in the day, the tribunal heard Leigh Day was involved in an unlawful referral payment to a third party. The firm paid an introducer £50,000 for claims, but half of that money was paid from Public Interest Lawyers.
However, PIL and its director Shiner were prohibited from paying for referrals because their part of the Iraqi civilians’ claim was publically funded.
Leigh Day was also said to have made arrangements with a third party to pay a percentage of success fees secured, which were not allowed under SRA rules. In total, Leigh Day paid £1.6m to an individual for referrals, with a further payment due when the claims were settled.
Martyn Day, Sapna Malik and solicitor Anna Crowther all deny wrongdoing, as does the firm. The tribunal hearing continues.