Pleadings at the Leigh Day hearing at the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal finished this evening, with a verdict expected at the end of next week.
Day 21 of the hearing – already the longest in the tribunal’s history – ended with lawyers for the SRA and Leigh Day making final pleadings.
The tribunal panel requested at least three and a half days to read through documents and transcripts before giving a verdict no earlier than noon next Thursday.
The final day of pleadings featured Patricia Robertson QC, representing Leigh Day and three of its lawyers, urging the tribunal not to equate mistakes with misconduct.
‘No-one has ever said it was not a cock up. It was, in [senior partner] Martyn Day’s words, poor work not to have spotted it sooner,’ she said. ‘Lawyers do miss things without the sky falling in in regulatory terms.'
Robertson was referring to the issue of a list of Iraqi detainees of the British Army – details of which were likely to harm the case against the Ministry of Defence - which was in possession of the firm from 2004 but was not disclosed even while allegations of torture and unlawful killing were being advanced.
Leigh Day’s case is this late disclosure was unintentional and simply caused because the paper, referred to as the OMS list, was in a generic file and was not requested by any authority until 2013.
Robertson said: ‘If you have children of a certain age you may know the books Where’s Wally? where you have marvellously complicated pictures and you are looking for a little guy in a stripey top. It can be difficult to spot Wally and then when you find Wally you cannot unspot Wally. That is an example where you know what you are looking for and yet it is still quite hard to find.
‘In our real life example you don’t even know you are looking for the OMS list. It becomes painfully obvious once you have spotted it.’
She added: ‘The failings here are human failings. Nobody spotted this document.’
Robertson said it was ‘stretching the boundaries’ to argue that Leigh Day was subject to systematic failings in its running of the claims.
She called attention to the case brought against Anna Crowther, who qualified in 2008, and is alleged to have breached SRA rules when she destroyed a translation of the OMS list.
Robertson said the SRA did not address the view of two QCs, both referees for Crowther, who said they could ‘perfectly well’ have made the same mistake. ‘A reasonable person who understands the real facts here and not the misreported facts would not regard her error as bringing the profession into disrepute,' she said.
‘The allegation made against Miss Crowther is breaking a butterfly on a wheel. What we see is somebody who went out of her way to be helpful in cooperating with the inquiry. What she did in relation to the OMS list when she typed up the list was intended to be helpful. Her mistake was to throw away the hand-written copy,' Robertson said. ‘How can you justify pursuing the most junior member of the team on this matter? The oversights alleged on the OMS list and the people carrying responsibility for that are the partners. ‘
Day, Crowther and partner Sapna Malik – as well as the firm itself – deny misconduct.