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SRA loses as Leigh Day exonerated in fake Iraqi abuse
16 June 2017
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Leigh Day and three of its lawyers have been cleared of all 20 charges brought against them by the Solicitors Regulation Authority in connection to their role in controversial Iraq war compensation claims. Unusually, the summary of the judgment issued by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal notes that one member of the three-person panel disputed the majority verdict.

Leigh Day, its co-founder Martyn Day, partner Sapna Malik and associate Anna Crowther were accused of professional misconduct for the manner in which they pursued claims of torture and murder against British soldiers made by Iraqi civilians. The claims resulted in the Al-Sweady public inquiry in 2014 which cost £31 million before it transpired that the allegations were untrue. 

The scandal toppled human rights lawyer Phil Shiner, who worked with Leigh Day representing Iraqi clients in parallel legal actions. Shiner was found guilty of 22 misconduct charges in February and struck off. During Leigh Day's seven week hearing, the longest in SDT history, Timothy Dutton QC set out 200 individual allegations on behalf of the SRA. They included claims that Leigh Day failed to conduct background checks on dodgy Iraqi clients, ignored key client Khuder Al Sweady's reputation as a violent liar to "keep him sweet" and shredded a document, a translation of the 'OMS list', which revealed that clients were members of an Iraqi militia rather than innocent civilians. 

    The SRA's case, yesterday.

A spokesman for the SRA confirmed that its three-year investigation and subsequent prosecution was its most expensive ever, eclipsing the previous record of £1.4 million. He declined to confirm the total cost, rumoured to be as much as £10 million, saying that it would be disclosed at a costs hearing in September. Leigh Day is understood to have spent in the region of £7 million mounting its defence.

The full judgment will not be released until August, but the SDT has released an unusual statement in the meantime. It makes explicit that one of its three panel members, Richard Hegarty, was "dissenting with the majority" in relation to 77 of the allegations. It reveals Hegarty thought that Day and Malik lacked integrity, that Crowther improperly destroyed the translated OMS list, and that the firm, Malik and Day made improper contingency fee and referral fee arrangements with the Iraqi fixer who obtained their clients. A source close to the prosecution told RollOnFriday that it was, to their knowledge, the first time the SDT had identified the existence of a dissenting opinion. The SDT confirmed to RollOnFriday that Hegarty's dissenting view will be included in the judgment.

Day said, "We are pleased that the Tribunal has cleared us of all the charges, and confirmed our view that we did not act improperly or dishonestly in these legal claims against the Ministry of Defence", and that "I and my colleagues can now get back to doing the work we love". A spokesman for the SRA said, “We note the judgement handed down. 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".
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