Lawyers who pursued claims against British troops in Iraq will not face new misconduct charges

High Court dismisses Solicitors Regulation Authority's attempt to overturn tribunal that cleared lawyers of wrongdoing 

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Friday 19 October 2018 16:47
Anna Crowther, Martyn Day and Sapna Malik, from law firm Leigh Day
Anna Crowther, Martyn Day and Sapna Malik, from law firm Leigh Day

Members of a law firm that pursued “baseless” allegations British troops tortured and murdered Iraqi detainees will not face new professional misconduct charges, after a legal challenge failed.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) had tried to prosecute Leigh Day co-founder Martyn Day and colleagues Sapna Malik and Anna Crowther, over their handling of claims against the Ministry of Defence.

But in June last year, a tribunal found none of the allegations were proven and cleared the lawyers of wrongdoing. The SRA challenged the findings.

Lawyers for the regulator claimed the earlier decision was “significantly flawed”, but the High Court dismissed its appeal on all grounds.

“There is, overall, no proper basis on which the appellate court, on established principles, can legitimately interfere with the assessment of the evidence and the evaluative judgment of the tribunal on any of the allegations which are the subject of this appeal,” Lord Justice Davis, Justice Foskett and Justice Holgate concluded.

“The outcome is that this court unanimously concludes that all the grounds of appeal fail.”

Mr Day said he was “pleased and relieved” by the judgment, following a six-day hearing earlier this year.

“The investigations and prosecutions have been ongoing for many years and my greatest regret is that it has diverted me from doing the human rights work that I love,” he added.

The Al-Sweady inquiry found allegations of murder and torture against British soldiers were false

“I am very pleased that today’s judgment will enable me to put my full energies back into that work.”

A spokesperson for Leigh Day said it had to invest “considerable sums” fighting the charges and had set up a team specialising in regulatory and disciplinary issues to help other firms and lawyers against the SRA.

A spokesperson for the regulator said: “We note the judgment, and will review it over the coming weeks.”

Mr Day, Ms Malik and Mr Crowther had faced misconduct charges over their handling of the claims against the Ministry of Defence, alleging the mistreatment and unlawful killing of captives at Camp Abu Naji following the Battle of Danny Boy in May 2004.

The SRA prosecuted the lawyers after the 2014 Al-Sweady inquiry found the most serious claims, of murder and torture, were “entirely false”, and the product of “deliberate lies”.

Days after the inquiry opened, Public Interest Lawyers, a now-defunct British law firm acting for the families of dead Iraqis, announced it was withdrawing the allegations against British soldiers.

The Danny Boy checkpoint, near Amarah

After initially claiming 20 Iraqis had been tortured and killed inside an Army compound in Iraq, they accepted the prisoners had not been alive when taken there.

The Ministry of Defence has always said the men in question were killed during the battle, near Amarah, and their bodies were taken to Camp Abu Naji for identification before being released to families.

The inquiry, which cost £31m, found no prisoners had been murdered but nine Iraqi detainees had been mistreated, and some of the bodies of killed insurgents had been accidentally damaged.

Inquiry chair Sir Thayne Forbes said allegations made by the Iraqis were based on “deliberate lies, reckless speculation and ingrained hostility”.

Phil Shiner, the head of Public Interest Lawyers, later admitted professional misconduct over the case, and was struck off the solicitors’ roll in 2017.

Soldiers involved in the Battle of Danny Boy have told of the distress caused by the allegations, which they believe tarnished other troops serving in Iraq.

Government ministers and MPs have attacked public interest lawyers for “spurious” legal claims against the armed forces, and David Cameron promised to crack down on the practice as prime minister.

The High Court judges noted the saga had divided opinions over Leigh Day, with critics believing it to be involved in “a trawl for cases, some of them highly controversial, involving relentless attacks on governments and corporations, in circumstances of self-sought publicity, and with large legal fees potentially accruing to the firm”.

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