Junior solicitor in the firing line over accusations firm pursued false claims against British troops
Law firm Leigh Day has begun its defence in what’s expected to be an extremely expensive seven-week disciplinary hearing.
The personal injury and human rights outfit is contesting 19 charges relating to eight claims brought on behalf of Iraqis against the Ministry of Defence (MoD).
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) has so far heard this week that the firm failed to check out its clients’ stories, then carried on pursuing the claims despite realising the allegations were dishonest. The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), which brought the case, claims Leigh Day pursued the legal challenges despite being in possession of evidence that “undermined” their authenticity.
A vital document, ‘the OMS list’, allegedly showed the firm’s clients weren’t civilians but were linked to a radical group. A solicitor faces a single misconduct charge for apparently wrongly destroying a handwritten translation of the list.
Readers may be particularly interested in this element of proceedings because the assistant solicitor accused is a junior lawyer, Anna Crowther. She was admitted to the roll in 2008 and worked at the firm’s international and group claims departments.
Is her inexperience relevant here? Timothy Dutton QC, acting for the SRA, said:
The public expects you to discharge your duties fully and one can’t say ‘I’m too junior to have appreciated the significance of what I’m doing’.
However, Leigh Day yesterday had a chance to defend itself against the raft of allegations it’s facing, including the charge brought against Crowther. According to The Guardian, Fountain Court Chambers’ Patricia Robertson QC had this to say on the matter:
No one is suggesting that the OMS list was deliberately overlooked… It’s fully accepted that the OMS list was significant. Not spotting its significance [at first] was a cock-up that’s much regretted but it does not amount in all of the circumstances to misconduct. Lawyers do sometimes miss significant documents but it was not the nail that caused the kingdom to be lost.
Continuing her defence of the firm, she told the panel her clients “frequently” represent soldiers, and that “no one here is fired up by an agenda to do down the army”. Leigh Day, Robertson also said, had brought more than 300 “successful” claims settled by the MoD; the case at hand involves just eight claims. She continued:
The idea that this is all about some sinister financial incentive just does not get out of the starting blocks.
Finding the accused — Leigh Day, partners Martyn Day and Sapna Malik, and solicitor Crowther — guilty would be “the wrong answer” and would “have a chilling effect on the willingness of lawyers to act in difficult cases.”
The hearing continues, and will likely continue for a further six weeks.
Social media brims with anger at Leigh Day lawyers as their seven-week disciplinary hearing begins with explosive allegations [Legal Cheek]
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