Human rights firm Leigh Day had ‘in effect’ secured an agreement to allow for prohibited retrospective referral fee payments, a disciplinary tribunal heard today.
Giving evidence, Timothy Harris, an associate at international firm Simmons & Simmons, said his understanding was that the firm had ‘created a mechanism’ that allowed for retrospective payments for historic cases - prohibited under SRA rules.
The agreements centred on a deal struck with a middleman named in the tribunal as Mazin Younis, whereby Leigh Day, which was aware it could not pay anyone for past referrals, had agreed to double Younis’ fee for new cases (from 13.75% to 25%) until he had in effect been paid in full for referrals he made before the deal was made.
Harris was asked by the SRA to produce a report into the firm, which he submitted in October 2015. Harris, a financial crime lawyer, said his report was a ‘fact-finding mission’.
‘My understanding was that the firm had found a way to get around the issue,’ Harris said.
The tribunal heard that Harris had interviewed Younis and asked him ‘whether he was in effect being paid for retrospective referral fees’. Leigh Day counsel Paul Gott described this as a ‘leading question’.
The tribunal also heard today that the SRA’s desire to move swiftly with its investigation may have prevented the firm from being able properly to comply with investigations.
Questioned by Gott on how long the report took him, Harris estimated it took nine months and around ‘80% of his time’.
However, Leigh Day and lawyers Martyn Day and Sapna Malik were given just 19 working days to respond.
‘Do you see that as a reasonable length of time?’ Gott asked, adding that the SRA had wanted Leigh Day referred to the SDT by the ‘end of the year’.
Gott also referred to a statement from defence secretary Michael Fallon back in December 2014. Fallon predicted then that the SRA would have concluded its investigation in early 2015 as part of the reason for the apparent need for swift progress.
Harris said the SRA had made it clear that the work should be carried out urgently as it was ‘in the public interest’.
Leigh Day, Martyn Day and Malik, as well as solicitor Anna Crowther, deny a total of 47 allegations of misconduct over their role in bringing claims that British troops ‘mutilated, tortured and killed’ Iraqi civilians in 2004.
The subsequent Al-Sweady public inquiry found the claims to be fabricated.
All parties deny wrongdoing and the tribunal continues.