Lawyers handling claims against British soldiers ignored concerns about the lead client in order to ‘keep him sweet’, the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal heard today.
In the third day of its hearing into allegations of misconduct over claims against British troops in Iraq, the tribunal was told that human rights firm Leigh Day had learned from a trusted intermediary as long ago as 2008 that its client Khuder Al-Sweady was suspected of violence and intimidation.
But senior partner Martyn Day and his colleague Sapna Malik did not raise the issue further and failed to carry out an investigation into individual clients. Al-Sweady's claims were eventually found to be fabricated.
Timothy Dutton QC, representing the Solicitors Regulation Authority which is prosecuting the firm, Day and Malik, said the intermediary’s concerns were dismissed as ‘symptomatic of him vying for control of the clients’.
Dutton said: ‘The real reason these matters were not investigated [is that] Martyn Day said it would be difficult if not impossible to run the claims without Al-Sweady. He needed Al-Sweady to bring the claims and lost sight of his professional obligations.’
Al-Sweady was described as being the ‘best way into’ the other claims as well as being the lead client, with the firm’s response ‘symptomatic of efforts to keep him sweet’.
The tribunal earlier heard the firm had inadequate systems for keeping important documents and knowing of their significance.
Dutton said solicitors involved in the claims were ‘grotesquely and very seriously negligent’ in not appreciating they had in their possession a key document, and he noted this conduct amounted to a breach of duty. He added it was ‘undisputed’ there were failures in identifying which documents were most relevant, and it was only when the SRA became involved that the firm carried out a proper search and the document was discovered.
Dutton added: ‘[Leigh Day] makes the point the documents on their files grew and grew… that is no answer at all either in [criticism of] document management systems or failure to share.
‘If you’re going to embark on international law claims where your documents are going to grow, all the more reason to have a system in place to identify all relevant documents.’
The tribunal also heard about the alleged involvement of solicitor Anna Crowther in the case. Crowther is charged with harming the reputation of the profession and failing in her professional duties over her disposal of a hand-written translation of a list of detainees which had been written in Arabic.
Crowther, who was approaching five years’ qualified, had typed her own translation, keeping the original Arabic-language document, but destroyed the original translation a day before officials from the Al-Sweady Inquiry were due to assess files.
Dutton said Leigh Day had argued that Crowther’s inexperience could explain away her mistake, but he insisted: ‘The public expects you to discharge your duties fully and one can’t say ‘I’m too junior to have appreciated the significance of what I’m doing’.
All respondents deny misconduct. The hearing continues.