The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal today published the long-awaited judgment on human rights firm Leigh Day and three of its lawyers.
The three had been charged with misconduct relating to their handling of historic allegations of torture and unlawful killing by British soldiers in Iraq.
The tribunal found that Day, Malik and Crowther actively investigated regulatory requirements and tried to act in accordance with the rules.The judgment adds: ‘They were open in evidence about things they did, and why they did them, and were prepared to acknowledge where they would, with hindsight, have done things differently. ‘The tribunal rejected the [SRA’s] general contention that [they] were the kind of people who put financial advantage above professional duty.’
But the judgment also reveals for the first time the level of doubt expressed by Richard Hegarty, a solicitor member of the three-person panel. Hegarty did not find Martyn Day to be a ‘credible, honest or convincing witness’, and on numerous occasions Day was said to have ‘failed to give clear and succinct answers to straightforward questions’.
Hegarty found Malik far more credible, saying she came across as a solicitor ‘intent on fighting for her clients and trying, but at times not succeeding, in staying within her professional rules’.
On Crowther, who was alleged to have destroyed a key document linking Iraqi clients with insurgent forces, Hegarty finds it ‘unfortunate’ that she changed the evidence given at interview and he notes her answers ‘did not sit well’ with the lawyers’ defence.
The SRA, which brought the prosecution, has 21 days from the conclusion of the case - including the costs hearing - to decide whether to bring an appeal. A hearing to determine costs will be arranged at the earliest opportunity 35 days after publication.
An SRA spokesperson said: ‘We will be reviewing the judgment in detail and considering next steps.’
The firm, senior partner Martyn Day, equity partner Sapna Malik and solicitor Anna Crowther had denied 19 charges.
The case took seven weeks to conclude, with members of the tribunal spending a week considering their decision.
Leigh Day’s costs were said to be £7m earlier in this hearing, while the SRA’s costs will also run to seven figures. Any adverse costs order against the SRA would leave the profession footing the bill for the prosecution.