Relations between lawyers at London firm Leigh Day and now-disgraced Phil Shiner of Public Interest Lawyers became strained over the handling of claims against British troops in Iraq, the tribunal considering charges against Leigh Day heard today. On the fifth day of the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal hearing into allegations of misconduct, counsel for Leigh Day said its lawyers had a ‘sustained commitment’ to ensure they had ‘got things right’.
Leigh Day, two of its partners and a solicitor deny a total of 47 allegations of misconduct over its role in bringing claims that British troops ‘mutilated, tortured and killed’ Iraqi civilians in 2004. The subsequent Al-Sweady public inquiry found the claims to be fabricated.
The solicitors accused are partners Martyn Day and Sapna Malik, and solicitor Anna Crowther. They all deny any wrongdoing.
In the second day of the firm’s defence, Patricia Robertson QC of Fountain Court Chambers revealed several emails between Day and Shiner, who was struck off earlier this year for misconduct.
Robertson said the emails showed that Day had concerns about Shiner’s conduct with regard to witness statements at the Al-Sweady inquiry. She read emails in which Day repeatedly asked Shiner for a phone call with his counsel to ‘discuss strategy’ and about Leigh Day’s level of involvement. Day was concerned that Leigh Day’s role had been marginalised and that it was effectively being blocked out of the case.
Day also twice warned Shiner to be careful about arranging referral fees and that he should take advice before agreeing on any. This, said Robertson, was an example of Day's keenness to ‘do things by the book’. ‘He [Day] is not someone without judgment and who ducks sensitive issues,’ Robertson said.
The defence also addressed an allegation surrounding a document - the OMS list showing that the prisoners detained by British troops were not civilians but members of the militia group the Mahdi army.
It was hand-written in Arabic and translated on behalf of the firm. Crowther had typed her own translation but disposed of the original translation, the tribunal heard. Robertson said this was a ‘de minimis’ error made by an ‘extraordinarily diligent and committed lawyer’.
She added that if every ‘de minimis error’ were to be treated by the SRA as a breach of regulations then the effects would be ‘rather startling’.
‘Inadvertent non-disclosure of documents is not uncommon,’ she said, adding that the disciplinary tribunal could see itself 'flooded with minor issues’ if all such incidents were to be taken as a rule breach.
Robertson added: ‘The SRA wants you to believe that Day went through a period of revisionism but what it actually was a period of self-examination to see what lessons could be learned.’
The hearing, which is expected to run for another six weeks, continues.