Innocent until proven guilty?
Disciplinary proceedings against the human rights firm accused of mishandling Iraq war claims began yesterday. Expected to last seven weeks, the proceedings are forecast to be the longest and most expensive in the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal’s (SDT) history.
Law firm Leigh Day and two of its partners (Martyn Day and Sapna Malik) are accused of spearheading legal challenges against the Ministry of Defence (MoD), which were based on false allegations. In the words of Fountain Court Chambers’ Timothy Dutton QC, acting for the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA):
Over a period of more than seven years, Martyn Day, Sapna Malik and Leigh Day made and maintained allegations that soldiers in the British army had murdered, tortured and mutilated innocent Iraqi civilians. The allegations were false, and should never have been advanced in public.
The tribunal has heard that Leigh Day, which has offices in London, Liverpool and Manchester, failed to check out its clients’ stories, then carried on pursuing the claims despite realising the allegations were dishonest. The firm has reportedly earned nearly £10 million bringing these claims.
The two senior partners and the firm together face a total of 19 charges. Though Leigh Day is expected to fight all of these, social media seems pretty content to conclude the firm is in the wrong. A quick scan of Twitter throws up these messages:
#LeighDay. The depths some will go in pursuit of wealth is staggering. Immoral & shameless. If found guilty you should all be banished.
— Simon Paul Powley (@Si_powley) April 24, 2017
BBC News – Leigh Day lawyers accused of misconduct over Iraq claims https://t.co/jq8KFsAdS2
Wow..shame we can't deport these assholes…
— Ash (@sparkey41) April 24, 2017
— Gardenchick (@Gardenchick4) April 24, 2017
And, of course, the ever reasonable Mail Online commenters have been on hand to give their views. One, called ‘Matthew’, this morning said: “These people are guilty of Treason. Plain and simple.” ‘Oldtoosoon’ said the “defendants are beyond shame”, while ‘Jon Nemo’ went with: “Put a gun in their hands and send them off to fight isis”.
That said, there were also some more measured responses to the whole saga:
I'm first in line to criticise some elements of Leigh Day's conduct, but the language of political enmity doesn't belong on front pages pic.twitter.com/x7iNdbIZGh
— Jack McDonald (@jackmcd83) April 25, 2017
— Chris Kendall ❄️🇪🇺 (@ottocrat) April 24, 2017
The disciplinary hearing comes weeks after lawyer Phil Shiner, formally of Public Interest Lawyers, was struck off for, among other things, paying an Iraqi middleman to find human rights claims for him to pursue in the United Kingdom.
During proceedings against Shiner, the tribunal heard he planned to pass cases to Leigh Day so it could bring damages claims, from which he would take a financial cut.
The hearing continues.
Joshua Rozenberg: The Leigh Day vs Ministry of Defence showdown explained [Legal Cheek Journal]
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