The ultimate fall from grace
Phil Shiner, a former law firm partner dubbed an “army ambulance chaser” by the press, has been struck off today.
This morning, the ex-Public Interest Lawyers solicitor was found to be dishonest on five counts by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) following a two-day hearing. It also ordered him to pay interim costs of £250,000. He will have 21 days to appeal the decision after it is published.
His striking off won’t come as a shock to the disgraced human rights solicitor. The University of Birmingham graduate fully or partly admitted 18 of the 24 charges brought against him by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) back in December. At the time, Shiner said he knew he was going to be booted out of the profession for his conduct.
So where did it all go wrong?
There’s no doubt Shiner — who Legal Cheek understands is still a professor at Middlesex University — was once a well-respected human rights lawyer. He was crowned Human Rights Lawyer of the Year by Liberty in 2004, and Solicitor of the Year by the Law Society in 2007. A quick scan of Shiner’s profile on Kent University’s ‘Congregations’ page shows just how far the “uncompromising” lawyer has fallen. Somewhat eerily, the final paragraph in his profile states:
‘I don’t ever want to retire’, he says. ‘I’ll carry on doing what I do until I can’t do it any longer.’
This past week, the true extent of Shiner’s behaviour has been laid bare in one of the most expensive disciplinary proceedings ever brought.
Shiner admitted paying a middleman to find potential human rights claims for him to pursue in the United Kingdom. This middleman, Iraqi human rights campaigner and fixer Mazin Younis, sought out people who had survived or witnessed the 2004 so-called Battle of Danny Boy between British troops and Iraqi militants. This was so even though, according to the SRA’s barrister Andrew Tabachnik, he was well aware this practice was in breach of professional rules.
As well as this, Shiner said Brits had tortured and executed a number of innocent Iraqi civilians during the battle. He even described it as the “UK equivalent of My Lai” (the infamous massacre of between 350 and 500 civilians in Vietnam by US troops). However, a £25 million inquiry in 2014 found his claims were “wholly baseless”.
39 Essex Chambers’ Tabachnik noted Shiner was not in attendance at the tribunal and, reports legal newsletter The Brief, said:
He is in a state of avoidance in relation to the proceedings. It is most unfortunate that having pursued allegations of a cover-up by the British Army that Professor Shiner has been caught engaging in his own cover-up.
A separate inquiry into his now defunct law firm, Public Interest Lawyers, found it had made allegations based on “deliberate lies, reckless speculation and ingrained hostility”. The outfit is understood to have brought approximately 200 claims against the Ministry of Defence.
Leigh Day, another human rights and personal injury firm, has also been caught up in this saga. Shiner has been accused of planning to pass cases to this firm so it could bring damages claims, from which he would take a financial cut. The firm will face a three-month tribunal hearing in March.
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