Defence secretary Michael Fallon has said lawyers who represented Iraqis making false allegations against British soldiers should apologise.
Fallon (pictured) told the House of Commons today that the Solicitors Regulation Authority has begun a review of lawyers’ conduct following the publication of the report of the Al-Sweady inquiry.
The five-year inquiry, which cost £25m, found the most serious allegations, of murder and torture of Iraqi detainees in 2004, were the ‘product of deliberate lies, reckless speculation and ingrained hostility’.
Birmingham firm Public Interest Lawyers, one of the firms that acted for the detainees, made no apology in a statement released today and insisted the report upholds some allegations against the British army.
The statement said the inquiry was ‘legally necessary, morally justified and politically required’. It added: ‘Until the evidence was complete, the families of the deceased had an understandable, genuine and sincere belief that mutilation, torture and murder of their loved ones had occurred.
‘We are delighted that after this lengthy period of time the families of the deceased no longer have this cloud of uncertainty hanging over their heads and are able to find some resolution of their understandable need to discover how their loved ones died.’
In a statement, national firm Leigh Day admitted it ‘did not get things right’ over the disclosure of a document given to its lawyers by a client in Syria seven years ago, but which was handed over to the inquiry only in September 2013.
The statement added: ‘We have apologised to the inquiry for not realising the significance of this document sooner.
‘Since this came to light, earlier this year, the government asked for the Legal Aid Agency to investigate the sequence of events and the conduct of the law firms involved.
‘That investigation has now taken place and we along with the law firm working on the inquiry have been informed that we have no case to answer.
‘At the same time we have been working with the SRA to ensure that in all areas, especially the demanding foreign work of the firm, we have training and structures in place to prevent any similar mistakes in the future.’
Fallon told the commons today that the allegations were a ‘shameful attempt to use our legal system to attack and falsely impugn our armed forces’.
He said Iraqi detainees, their accomplices and their lawyers must ‘bear the brunt’ of the criticism for the protracted nature and cost of this ‘unnecessary’ inquiry.
‘The falsity of the overwhelming majority of their allegations, the extraordinarily late disclosure of a document showing the nine detainees to have been insurgents and the delay by their lawyers in withdrawing the allegations of torture and murder have prompted the SRA to investigate possible breaches of professional standards.’
He added that the authority is expected to complete its investigation into the two firms responsible, Public Interest Lawyers and Leigh Day, early next year.
Inquiry chairman Sir Thayne Forbes made nine separate recommendations, including improvements to the collection, storage of, and ability to search documents and records.
He concluded that while some force was used against the detainees while they were being restrained during capture, there was no deliberate ill-treatment.
The central allegation in judicial review proceedings was that 20 or more Iraqi citizens were murdered at Camp Abu Naji following their capture after a battle at the ‘Danny Boy’ British checkpoint in southern Iraq.
Forbes said he was ‘completely sure’ none of the bodies of the deceased was mutilated or mistreated by the British in any way and that none had been tortured by British soldiers prior to their death.
The inquiry itself involved more than 37 million files searched to produce disclosure of more than 5,000 documents and 70 video clips.
The inquiry obtained 610 written witness statements, and 282 witnesses were called to give oral evidence over 169 sitting days and 44 weeks.
The outcome of that process was recognition on 20 March 2014 by the legal representatives of the Iraqi core participants that no Iraqis captured alive during the course of the battle on 14 May 2004 died or were killed at Camp Abu Naji.