The Solicitors Regulation Authority today lost its challenge against the decision to clear human rights firm Leigh Day of misconduct.
The SRA appealed last summer’s ruling of the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal that the firm and three of its lawyers breached its rules in the handling of claims by Iraqi civilians against the Ministry of Defence.
But the divisional court of the High Court dismissed the appeal, saying the tribunal was entitled to find the 19 charges unproven against the firm, senior partner Martyn Day, equity partner Sapna Malik and solicitor Anna Crowther.
In Solicitors Regulation Authority v Day & Ors, the judges Lord Justice Davis, Mr Justice Foskett and Mr Justice Holgate said dissatisfaction on the part of the SRA with the tribunal’s decision could not of itself be grounds for a successful appeal.
In almost all material respects, they said, the SRA’s challenge was on the basis on primary fact and the assessment of whether those facts could determine whether there was professional misconduct. No errors of law material to SDT’s conclusion had been cited by the SRA.
The judges added: ‘There is, overall, no proper basis on which the appellate court, on established principles, can legitimately interfere with the assessment of the evidence and the evaluative judgment of the Tribunal on any of the allegations which are the subject of this appeal.’
The ruling is likely to bring an end to a prosecution that has cost at least £9m, featured suggestions of undue pressure from government departments, and required a seven-week hearing at the SDT - the longest in its history.
Speaking after today’s ruling, Martyn Day said: 'We are both pleased and relieved by today’s findings. The investigations and prosecutions have been ongoing for many years and my greatest regret is that it has diverted me from doing the human rights work that I love. I am very pleased that today’s judgment will enable me to put my full energies back into that work.'
Allegations against the firm and solicitors included personally endorsing claims in a 2008 press conference, late disclosure of a key document, disposal of a translation of that document, unlawful payments to a third party and not acting on the use of the word ‘bribe’ in three emails handled by the firm. All allegations were found unproven, albeit some by a majority ruling of the three-person tribunal panel.
An SRA spokesperson said today: 'We note the judgment, and will review it over the coming weeks.'
Costs are still to be decided for the latest hearing. The tribunal proceedings cost the SRA £1.5m and Leigh Day around £7.8m, although the firm is insured to cover such costs.