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Iraq abuse inquiry firm comes out swinging against Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal referral

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Leigh Day says challenges against MoD are an important check and balance

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The accusations mounted against top human rights firm Leigh Day have intensified following a referral to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) — and it’s not taking the news lying down.

Up against the Ministry of Defence (MoD) in a £31 million public inquiry, the accused firm was instructed by a number of Iraqis claiming that they had been abused by British troops in 2004.

The MoD criticised the firm during and after the Al Sweady Inquiry, and it was this that sprung the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) into action.

The SRA has been investigating both Leigh Day and public law firm Public Interest Lawyers — also involved in the case — since 2014. It’s now been concluded that the claims are serious enough to be passed on to the SDT.

Paul Phillip, chief executive of the SRA, said:

These are serious allegations and there is a clear public interest in resolving this matter as quickly as possible. Therefore we have referred Leigh Day, and a number of individual solicitors, to the independent Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal. It is now for the tribunal to decide to hear the allegations and decide what course of action to take.

Though the SRA failed to specify the content of the damning allegations, the claims primarily relate to a document termed “the OMS detainee list”.

This one-page Arabic document listed nine Iraqi detainees at the centre of the Inquiry and questioned their credibility. They had previously told both the firm and the Inquiry that they were innocent bystanders captured and tortured by British soldiers. The Inquiry found that the OMS detainee list identified them as members of the Mahdi Army and therefore combatants. Inquiry chairman and former High Court judge Sir Thayne Forbes concluded that the Iraqis’ allegations were the product of “deliberate and calculated lies”.

Leigh Day has been accused of shredding a key document relating to the case, but the firm vehemently deny that it was the original Arabic document. The firm comments:

“[T]here is no dispute about the fact that the Arabic original of the document was disclosed and nor is there any issue over the accuracy of the translation supplied.”

Instead, they say that a handwritten translation of the document was destroyed in “an innocent mistake by a junior employee”.

The firm has spoken out against the SRA’s “premature” decision to refer the matter to the SDT. In a statement, the firm said:

Leigh Day is disappointed that the SRA has decided to refer the firm to the SDT without waiting for responses to any of their allegations. Leigh Day refutes each and every one of the allegations.

Regarding the accusations that Leigh Day failed to understand the relevance of the OMS detainee list, they went on:

Leigh Day was asked by the Inquiry to check if it had any relevant documents in August 2013. The firm immediately carried out a review of everything it had and it was only at this point that we realised the relevance to the Inquiry of this one page document.

Leigh Day also questions whether the MoD had been given the list by a journalist in 2004.

Continuing, the firm was quick to point out that legal challenges against government departments are an important check and balance on state power. It added:

The ongoing cases raise a host of legal issues of vital importance in upholding the rule of law in times of armed conflict, some of which will shortly be dealt with by the Supreme Court.

And some lawyers have jumped to the firm’s defence for that very reason. Fahad Ansari, immigration lawyer at Duncan Lewis, commented on Twitter:

Other commentators have been less kind: