SRA pays Leigh Day £1m in costs to end disciplinary case

Day: Accused by MP

The highly contentious Leigh Day disciplinary case has come to an end with the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) paying the firm £1m in costs after the regulator’s unsuccessful appeal.

In October, the High Court dismissed the SRA’s appeal against the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal’s (SDT) decision to clear the London and Manchester firm, and three of its solicitors, of any misconduct arising from the Al-Sweady inquiry.

The inquiry cleared British soldiers of the most serious allegations of unlawful killing after a firefight during the Iraq war in 2004, but found there had been some mistreatment of detainees.

The court ordered the SRA to pay Leigh Day’s appeal costs, and the parties have agreed that the SRA will pay £995,000, including the £600,000 paid as an interim payment on account in October.

Last month, the SRA revealed that it had already spent £3.1m on the case – £222,000 on its initial investigation, £1.9m on the prosecution before the SDT, and a further £972,000 on the appeal. All figures include VAT.

In addition to its internal team, the SRA used City law firm Simmons & Simmons and Tim Dutton QC.

Though the formal proceedings are at an end, the fall-out from the inquiry and disciplinary case continues.

Last week, the firm’s senior partner, Martyn Day, was accused by a Conservative MP of having been “dishonest throughout this process” – dishonesty was not alleged by the SRA.

Mr Day was giving evidence to the defence select committee about the statute of limitation for forces veterans.

He asked Johnny Mercer if he was prepared to repeat that allegation outside Parliament, where he would not have the benefit of privilege, to which he said he would. But Mr Mercer does not appear to have done so.

Mr Mercer, a former army captain, said the claims against the British soldiers in Iraq “was entirely the product of deliberate lies, reckless speculation and ingrained hostility”.

He accused Mr Day of being “deluded” for thinking his generation of soldiers “have such a problem with values and standards” that they would have executed non-combatants.

Mr Day pointed out that his firm had sued the Ministry of Defence (MoD) rather than individual soldiers, and that around 330 claims against the government in relation to Iraq had been successful, with more than 600 still being processed.

Asked if he felt remorse or regret about the situation faced by soldiers accused of wrongdoing, Mr Day said: “I am proud of the system that we represent and the rule of law, and the rule of law means that at times soldiers will have to come and give evidence. That is tough for them as it is for anybody else.”

The solicitor said his firm had received £11m in fees and disbursements from the government from Iraq claims.

Meanwhile, in the wake of the SRA making public some of the correspondence it had with the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and MoD over the prosecutions of Leigh Day and also Public Interest Lawyers/Phil Shiner – in a bid to allay fears that the government had influenced the cases – the MoD has now published a larger stash following a freedom of information request.

There is duplication in the released documents, and again there is nothing to suggest that there was any interference with the SRA’s independent work, although there are still notable points.

But they demonstrate a level of contact with the complainant (the MoD) going far beyond what most complainants receive, as well as a level of interest from the MoJ that is surely unlike that of any other case.

In one heavily redacted email to a contact at the MoJ, then SRA policy director Crispin Passmore ends his message with the words “Please delete!” – but it is not clear to what he is referring.

Another email from SRA external affairs director Jane Malcolm requests a conversation with an MoD official “in strictest confidence”, but there is no record provided of what it was about.

There has been criticism of the SRA using the prosecution to push its case for SDT reform; this included a submission to the defence select committee, but the correspondence shows that the committee refused to consider it as it was beyond the terms of reference of its inquiry into MoD support for soldiers subject to judicial processes, headed by Mr Mercer.

There is also a letter from SRA legal director David Middleton to the Iraq Historic Allegations Team – a body set up to review and investigate allegations of abuse of Iraqi civilians by UK armed forces – agreeing to help with the disclosure of documents from the Phil Shiner case.

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