The Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers expresses its deep concern regarding the referral of Leigh Day to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal. The behaviour of senior political figures and the media in relation to this matter represents a concerted attempt to discredit Leigh Day and prevent it from effectively representing Iraqi detainees in the current legal challenge against the Ministry of Defence for torture suffered at the hands of the British military. The Haldane Society is concerned that the Government is attempting to manipulate bodies aimed at regulating the legal profession to prevent torture victims from accessing justice and redress in the courts and more widely to escape accountability for international law violations which may have been committed in Iraq. We also believe that the Government is utilising the allegations made by the Solicitors Regulation Authority against Leigh Day to stifle debate among the British public about potential human rights abuses committed during the Iraq war and to push through legislation which will make the Human Rights Act less accessible in the courts.
The Haldane Society is concerned that Leigh Day’s referral to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal was a politically motivated action for several reasons. Leigh Day was not given adequate time to respond to the allegations made against it by the Solicitors Regulation Authority regarding the firm’s conduct at the Al-Sweady Inquiry. The Solicitors Regulation Authority asked for Leigh Day’s response to eight allegations in mid-August 2015 and, according to Leigh Day, it was agreed that the firm would have until the end of October to respond. Ten days before Leigh Day was due to serve its response, the Solicitors Regulation Authority sent a further set of allegations and refused to allow Leigh Day extra time to answer both sets of allegations. The Solicitors Regulation Authority subsequently referred Leigh Day to the tribunal. The Haldane Society maintains that the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s refusal to allow Leigh Day additional time to respond to numerous allegations against it and its hasty move to refer the firm to the Tribunal appears to be motivated not by a desire to investigate breaches of professional conduct but to block human rights claims against the Government and discredit claimants and their lawyers.
Secondly, the Haldane Society believes that the Government’s shameless interference in this matter also reflects its political interest in the firm's referral to the tribunal. Comments made in the press by Conservative MPs labelling Leigh Day as ‘immoral, thieving, ambulance chasing lawyers’ is an attempt to smear and discredit the potentially genuine claims of Iraqi torture victims through undermining the work and reputation of their lawyers. The Haldane Society believes that this is a violation of the Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers adopted by the United Nations: lawyers must be free to perform their professional functions without ‘intimidation, harassment or improper interference’. The Basic Principles also state thatlawyers ‘shall not suffer, or be threatened with, prosecution or administrative, economic or other sanctions’ for any work which is undertaken in accordance with ethics and their professional duties. While the Haldane Society is unable to comment on the veracity of the allegations made against Leigh Day, we do believe that the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s premature referral of the firm to the Tribunal and the Government’s venomous attacks on Leigh Day accompanied with the media’s vilification of the firm represent a violation of these Basic Principles. Although the Government may oppose the allegations made by Iraqi civilians who claim to have been tortured by British soldiers, it is actively violating Basic Principle 18 through its demonising of Leigh Day as the claimants’ legal representatives. Leigh Day must not be identified with their clients or their clients’ causes as a result of discharging their functions, but this is precisely what the Government is doing by interfering with this disciplinary matter and placing pressure on the Solicitors Regulation Authority to prematurely escalate the investigation into Leigh Day’s conduct.
The Haldane Society opposes the Government’s manipulation of this matter to push through legislation which will curtail the public’s access to justice and the right to hold the Government accountable for human rights violations. The proposed introduction of government powers to decide which claims can and cannot be brought in court against it is a violation of the rule of law and access to justice and compromises the independence of the judiciary.
The Haldane Society opposes any form of intimidation, bullying and persecution of lawyers across the globe and extends its support to Leigh Day. The Haldane Society opposes the government’s use of an instrument intended to regulate the legal profession to advance its political agenda and stifle political dissent. The Haldane Society stands behind Leigh Day and any other member of the legal profession challenging the government’s human rights abuses, both in the UK and internationally, and supports the vital work which lawyers do to facilitate their clients’ right to have their cases and evidence heard and tested in court.