A senior lawyer at human rights firm Leigh Day oversaw a £25,000 payment to a claims fixer without reading the relevant rules around referral fees, the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal heard today.
Equity partner Sapna Malik helped to draft an agreement to pay middleman Mazin Younis in December 2008 for what turned out to be historic cases involving British service personnel.
That was in breach of rules, the tribunal heard. Malik admitted to the tribunal that she had not checked regulations relating to referral fees before the agreement was made.
When she checked the rules in the early part of 2009, the payments were ‘recategorised’, she said, to comply with regulations.
Andrew Tabachnik QC, of 39 Essex Chambers, representing the Solicitors Regulation Authority, said Malik was ‘not alive’ to the risk of rule breaches and did not place compliance ‘uppermost’ in her mind. He said Malik’s firm had relied on Younis not to breach SRA rules but had failed to carry out necessary checks.
‘I suggest [the payment was made] in circumstances which can be categorised as reckless, not having taken any steps to get to the bottom of the regulatory position before it was made,’ said Tabachnik. ‘That is a matter which impairs integrity.’
Malik said she denied the allegation of recklessness and a lack of integrity and changed the nature of the agreement as soon as she realised the mistake in the drafting. She accepted ‘it would have been better’ if she had looked at regulatory restrictions before the payment was made.
In the first day of Malik’s evidence, at the start of the fourth week of the hearing, Malik said she had struggled with the nature of the material she was looking at when she went on a fact-finding trip to Beirut as the claims were being investigated. These included going through pictures of corpses with bereaved families to identify the dead.
‘By the end of trip I was having flashbacks to those photographs,’ she said. ‘[Senior partner] Martyn Day wanted me to go through the photographs to make sure the clients were clear. I think I was getting pretty close to the edge.’
Leigh Day and three solicitors – Day, Malik and Anna Crowther – all deny wrongdoing in connection with claims brought against the Ministry of Defence over alleged atrocities by British forces in Iraq. The hearing continues.