Philip Shiner’s firm Public Interest Lawyers (PIL) received more than £1.6m through a fee-sharing agreement in relation to Iraqi civilian claims against the British government, a tribunal has heard.
Shiner was involved in a tripartite agreement with national firm Leigh Day and an individual named Mazin Younis to split proceeds from the claims.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal heard that Leigh Day paid PIL the money over two instalments, as well as paying Youniss a total of £1.65m.
The tribunal stressed that Leigh Day’s conduct was not under any scrutiny during the Shiner hearing.
Representing the Solicitors Regulation Authority, which brought the charges against Shiner, Andrew Tabachnik of 39 Essex Chambers, said the figures showed this was a ‘lucrative’ part of Shiner’s business.
But the tribunal heard the human rights lawyer had disregarded rules surrounding referral fees, including the requirement to secure an advance written agreement between the parties involved and providing clients with information about the arrangement.
Tabachnik said: ‘It appears unfortunately to be the position that, recognising the potential sums were likely to be recoverable through these arrangements, the appropriate level of care and attention was not put to the legalities and proprieties of the relevant referral agreements.’
The tribunal heard that Shiner, who has not been present during this week's tribunal hearing, admitted three charges relating to authorising, procuring and providing payments that were in breach of SRA rules.
In mid-September 2007, the tribunal heard, Younis was paid £2,000 in relation to four clients in relation to the Al Sweady inquiry into allegations of war crimes. The agreement continued with Younis paid £500 for each client introduced.
A new tripartite agreement was later put together after concerns were raised about the arrangements, with Tabachnik saying the parties had ‘lost their bearings’.
Shiner denies dishonesty in relation to the payments, saying he was ignorant to the fact that payments for historic matters were in breach of regulatory rules. The SRA said that position changed.
The tribunal heard that Youniss had threatened to withhold information about potential clients until he was paid, before the new agreement was made.
The SRA alleged that Shiner had providing a misleading and incomplete response when the regulator made contact with him, the tribunal heard. Again he denied a charge of dishonesty in relation to this, saying he was not responsible for his actions at this time due to stress and the matters dating back so far.
The SRA said any misgivings about cold-calling that Shiner may have had were put to one side as ‘this was not an opportunity he was prepared to let slip’.
The tribunal heard that Shiner failed to keep Al-Sweady clients informed for a year even while prospects of success in their cases were deteriorating. It was only in March 2014 that an update was provided, at which point the failure of the claims was already certain.
At the conclusion of the prosecution case and with no appearance from Shiner, the tribunal has retired to consider its decision. The panel will spend tomorrow evaluating the evidence and will return at 11.30am on Thursday.