Legal Business Blogs

‘Don’t start a war you can’t win’: High Court throws out SRA’s Leigh Day misconduct appeal

The High Court has dismissed an appeal by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) which challenged the decision to exonerate Leigh Day of misconduct related to the Iraq War.

Last June, the Solicitors’ Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) cleared the firm and three of its lawyers accused of pursuing false damages claims of torture and murder made by Iraqi civilians against British troops in the region. The SRA appealed that decision.

However Lord Justice Davis, Justice Foskett and Justice Holgate today (19 October) dismissed the appeal against senior partner Martyn Day, partner Sapna Malik and assistant solicitor Anna Crowther, on the basis that ‘dissatisfaction on the part of the SRA with the outcome of the very protracted hearing… cannot of itself ground a successful appeal.’

The judgment added that the SRA’s appeal related to the SDT’s ‘findings of primary fact’ but ‘either there were no errors of law on the part of the tribunal or any errors were not material to the conclusion on each allegation.’

It also noted the overwhelming amount of ‘documents and transcripts’ and ‘extremely lengthy “skeleton arguments”’ the court had to deal with: ‘the costs thus far have become simply enormous.’

Following the ruling, Day commented: ‘We are both pleased and relieved by today’s findings. 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. I am very pleased that today’s judgment will enable me to put my full energies back into that work.’

An SRA spokesperson said: ‘We note the judgment, and will review it over the coming weeks.’

Iain Miller, regulatory partner at Kingsley Napley, told Legal Business: ‘Don’t start a war you can’t win. Leigh Day bravely fought it on all fronts and they won, so they will be rightfully delighted.’

On the matter of costs, which sit at about £9m, Miller said: ‘Given how much factual evidence was involved and how long the hearing was, it ranks up there with a big civil commercial case. To that extent, it’s not surprising.’

Leigh Day and its lawyers were represented by Clyde & Co partner Fergal Cathie, who instructed Fountain Court Chambers’ Patricia Robertson QC and Paul Gott QC.

The SRA has been ordered to pay Leigh Day’s costs, although exact amounts are yet to be decided.

Cathie told Legal Business: ‘I am sure that the SRA will be reflecting carefully on the outcome of this case, and learning some lessons from the experience. Hopefully we will see a more proportionate approach being taken to future prosecutions.’

The SRA was advised by Russell Cooke, which enlisted Fountain Court Chambers’ Timothy Dutton QC and Nick Daly, 39 Essex Chambers’ Andrew Tabachnik QC and 11KBW’s Heather Emmerson.