The Solicitors Regulation Authority is expected to argue today that it should not bear the full cost of prosecuting London human rights firm Leigh Day and three of its solicitors.
The parties will reconvene at the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal for a one-day hearing to decide the burden of costs of the failed prosecution earlier this year. Multiple allegations were all found unproven against Martyn Day, Sapna Malik and Anna Crowther in June, after the longest trial in the history of the tribunal.
The firm and individuals had been charged with 19 allegations relating to their handling of claims from Iraqi civilians against the Ministry of Defence which turned out to be false. The human rights cases were later subject to a five-year government inquiry costing £31m.
The hearings lasted seven weeks and the tribunal sat for 22 days in total, hearing arguments from four QCs.
The SRA failed to prove the allegations to a criminal standard but is expected to argue that Leigh Day should meet some of the costs.
Its case is likely to focus on the admissions of mistakes – albeit not misconduct – by the firm and its solicitors, and the fact that one member of the three-person tribunal dissented on some verdicts.
The costs are still unknown at this stage, but will certainly run into seven figures and could be significantly more.
If the SRA cannot persuade the tribunal to shift the costs burden, it will fall upon the profession to fund the case.
There is precedent for a party cleared of professional misconduct still being made subject to a costs order. In September 2016, the tribunal ruled that a solicitor, against whom allegations were not proven, should pay for both the investigation and half the costs of the four-day hearing. This came to more than £46,000, with the tribunal deciding the solicitor had ‘brought proceedings on himself’.