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Phil Shiner struck off over Iraqi claims

Twenty-two counts of misconduct proved, including dishonesty and lack of integrity

2 February 2017

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The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal has struck human rights lawyer Phil Shiner off the roll of solicitors after finding five counts of dishonesty proved against him.

In a prosecution brought by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, the tribunal found 22 out of 24 professional misconduct charges relating to claims against British soldiers proven to the criminal standard of proof. Professor Shiner was ordered to pay interim costs of £250,000.

The head of the now defunct firm Public Interest Lawyers claimed British troops had captured, tortured, and murdered Iraqi civilians after the Battle of Danny Boy in 2004. The claims brought on behalf of his clients drew accusations that PIL was ‘hounding’ British troops.

A 2014 report published by the Al-Sweady inquiry found those who died a decade earlier had been members of the Mahdi Army militia. The former Law Society solicitor of the year subsequently admitted paying referral fees to an Iraqi middleman to find claimants against the UK government.

Over a two-day hearing, the SDT heard Shiner earned his firm more than £1.6m from the abuse claims. Representing the SRA, Andrew Tabachnik of 39 Essex Chambers said Shiner had ‘lost his bearings’ in signing up claimants.

Shiner was not present at the SDT. He had written to the tribunal to say he was unwell and could not afford a defence lawyer. The tribunal aims to publish its decision within seven weeks, and Shiner will then have 21 days to appeal.

Paul Philip, the SRA’s chief executive, welcomed the SDT’s decision. ‘It is important that solicitors can bring forward difficult cases, but the public must be able to place their trust in them.

‘His misconduct has caused real distress to soldiers, their families, and to the families of Iraqi people who thought that their loved ones had been murdered or tortured. More than £30m of public funds were spent on investigating what proved to be false and dishonest allegations.

‘The Lord Chief Justice said in 2014 that misleading court must be regarded by any disciplinary tribunal as one of the most serious offences that a solicitor could commit. He said it was not simply a breach of a rule of a game, but a fundamental affront to a rule designed to safeguard the fairness and justice of proceedings.

‘We expect solicitors to maintain the highest professional standards in all areas of their work, to uphold the rule of law, act with integrity, and act honestly. If they do not, we will take action to maintain the trust the public places in solicitors.’

The defence secretary, Sir Michael Fallon, said: ‘Justice has finally been served after we took the unprecedented step of submitting evidence on his abuse of our legal system.

‘Phil Shiner made soldiers’ lives a misery by pursuing false claims of torture and murder – now he should apologise. We will study any implications for outstanding legal claims closely.’

A second solicitor from PIL, John Dickinson, was reprimanded and ordered to pay £2,000 costs after he admitted that he had failed to keep the Al-Sweady clients properly informed as to the progress of the inquiry.

John van der Luit-Drummond is deputy editor at Solicitors Journal

john.vanderluit@solicitorsjournal.co.uk | @JvdLD

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Regulation Regulators Ethics, professionalism and judgement

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