Human rights firm Leigh Day wants the Solicitors Regulation Authority to absorb almost £5m of the costs it incurred successfully defending high-profile misconduct allegations, the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal heard today.
The firm applied to the tribunal to order the SRA to pay 60% of its costs, which are estimated at around £7.8m (subject to detailed assessment). It also wants the regulator to pay £1.5m on account within 14 days.
In June, the firm and three of its solicitors were cleared on each of 19 charges brought by the SRA regarding the handling of claims relating to allegations of atrocities by British troops in Iraq.
The SRA opposes both applications and says it is not willing to pay anything towards Leigh Day’s costs. Its own costs are thought to be lower than the firm’s - but higher than the previous prosecution costs record of £1.4m.
Addressing the SDT for Leigh Day today, Patricia Robertson QC, of Fountain Court Chambers, said the SRA had suffered a ‘malaise’ and was ‘ducking and diving’ in the build-up to the seven-week hearing earlier this year.
‘This is about making sure regulators play by the rules they are under. These proceedings were a sledgehammer,’ she said. ‘It was not just a matter of chucking the kitchen sink, it was the microwave on top… [The SRA] is expecting firms to show insight and learn from mistakes but it doesn’t do so itself.’
Robertson said it was not the case that the SRA should be expected to successfully prosecute every solicitor against whom it makes allegations, but the regulator must act reasonably and proportionately.
Leigh Day argues there was no proper legal or factual basis for bringing proceedings against the firm and it was disproportionate to bring a case against solicitor Anna Crowther.
More generally, the firm says the SRA ‘grossly over-prosecuted’ the case in general, behaving in a way that ‘lacked transparency, and taking an over-the-top, unrealistic, oppressive and disproportionate approach’, thereby adding to the length and costs of proceedings.
The firm describes the SRA as a having ‘ploughed relentlessly ahead like a rudderless oil tanker’, rejecting invitations to narrow the issues and save costs.
The SRA was expected to argue this afternoon that this was a complex case brought in the public interest that required time and resources to prosecute. Lawyers will suggest that mistakes – albeit not misconduct – were admitted by the firm and its solicitors, and point to the fact that one member of the three-person tribunal dissented on some verdicts.
The hearing continues.