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Leigh Day denies paying ‘bribes’ to Iraqi fixer

‘Frustrated’ partner tells tribunal not to attach ‘legal meaning’ to word found in email

19 May 2017

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Leigh Day solicitors have denied paying ‘bribes’ to an Iraqi fixer despite using the word over email.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority alleged that firm partner Sapna Malik had approved an ‘improper’ £25,000 referral fee to a man who helped organise meetings with clients.

Representing the SRA, Andrew Tabachnik QC of 39 Essex Chambers, said the payment was made in ‘circumstances which can be characterised as reckless’ and that Malik had not taken steps to check the regulatory rules before doing so.

Malik told the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal that she did not deliberately break professional rules and denied that she had been reckless in authorising the fee. But she accepted that ‘it would have been better’ if she had checked the rules before doing so.

‘I did not think I was being too clever or tricksy…but finding a way forward that would not circumvent the SRA’s rules but comply with them,’ she said.

Tabachnik told the tribunal that Malik had used the word ‘bribes’ to describe payments in an email that she had sent to her co-accused, Leigh Day’s co-founder, Martyn Day.

Malik said she had used the word due to frustration at the costs that were being racked up, but that she had not used it in its legal sense. ‘One can use frustrated phrases without attaching legal meaning to a word,’ she said.

Earlier in the week, Day had also denied authorising bribes. He acknowledged that his colleague Malik had used the word in an email, but said he had dismissed it because he thought she was ‘fed up’.

Day was questioned over payments made to Iraqi police officers and said that Malik dealt with disbursements.

The tribunal was shown an email to Day from Phil Shiner, the founder of the now-defunct Public Interest Lawyers, in which Shiner expressed concern that payments could be viewed as a ‘disguised bribe’. Shiner was struck off earlier this year for dishonesty and breaching solicitor practice rules, in his handling of cases.

The tribunal also heard that Malik had failed to recognise the significance of the infamous OMS list, which revealed their clients were not civilians, but members of an Iraqi militia, and had failed to disclose it.

She told the tribunal that her failure had been an ‘oversight’ that it was ’difficult to find an explanation’ for.

The claims brought by Leigh Day alleged torture and murder of Iraqis by members of the British army following the so-called Battle of Danny Boy during the Iraq war, in 2004.

Malik, Day, and a more junior solicitor, Anna Crowther, face numerous allegations arising out of the way they handled the cases. All deny wrongdoing and the hearing, which is expected to last seven weeks, continues.

Catherine Baksi is a freelance legal journalist

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Leigh Day Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal