Lawyers rush to defend Leigh Day after solicitors cleared of 19 misconduct charges

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By Katie King on

One said it was ‘a shameful political witchhunt’

Lawyers and academics alike have rushed to the defence of Leigh Day, as the human rights firm is cleared on all misconduct charges brought against it.

The London-based firm has been the subject of tabloid and social media wrath this past year. Charged with a total of 19 professional misconduct counts, partners Sapna Malik and Martyn Day, junior lawyer Anna Crowther and the firm itself were accused of spearheading legal challenges against the Ministry of Defence that were based on false allegations.

During the seven-week Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) hearing, some Twitter users seemed more than happy to take aim at Day and co:

Then, the culmination of the longest and most expensive SDT hearing in history saw Leigh Day and its lawyers cleared of all misconduct. Costs in the case — which was brought by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) — are expected to hit seven-figure sums.

Now it’s time for the fall-out. In stark contrast to the social media brimming of anger embedded above, lawyers have this weekend been quick to jump to Leigh Day’s defence. Law centre worker and future pupil barrister Miranda Grell described the fiasco as “a shameful political witchhunt”:

Solicitor Peter Todd said it was “great news” the firm had been cleared and, like Grell, said the prosecution raises important questions:

While Mark Stephens, media law partner, said the outcome of the case is “fabulous”:

As can be seen above, aside from rejoice and relief for Leigh Day and the staff involved, many lawyers have penned concerns about the SRA’s approach to this case and the wider impact this will have.

Law Society Gazette reporter John Hyde has said the focus will now shift to the SRA, and asked: “Did the case truly merit such time and expense?… Solicitors will wonder whether this case should have been handled as it was. We might learn more at the future costs hearing, which will no doubt produce some eye-watering figures. With the profession footing the bill for this whole episode, lawyers everywhere — not just those exonerated Leigh Day practitioners — will feel they deserve answers.”

Richard Moorhead, a UCL academic, reached a similar conclusion. He blogged:

Making mistakes is much more common than we care to admit. Some of those mistakes probably do require the full monty of adversarial process but most probably do not… So let’s react, investigate, think about the lessons to be learned. But let’s also keep those lessons in perspective and remember which glasses we have on as we peer at the few things we know now or the SDT judgment in a few months’ time.

Having spoken to an SRA spokesperson this morning, Legal Cheek has been told the regulator cannot issue a comment in reaction to these latest articles beyond what it issued on Friday. This was:

We note the judgment handed down today. We need to wait to see the full detail and rationale behind the tribunal’s decision. We will then consider the possibility of an appeal.

However, it is perhaps worth mentioning at this stage the SRA is keen to have the SDT’s standard of proof lowered from the criminal standard (beyond reasonable doubt) to the civil standard (on the balance of probabilities). This change has had backing from, for example, Lord Justice Leveson.

A written judgment in this case will be published in August. Expect more social media reaction then.

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