2017-01-30 19:49:00
A prominent human rights lawyer ignored the rules and acted as though “the ends justified the means” when he pursued false claims against British troops in Iraq, a tribunal has heard. Phil Shiner and his now defunct law firm, Public Interest Lawyers (Pil), stood to benefit from successful claims for damages against soldiers for their alleged misbehaviour after the Battle of Danny Boy in 2004, the solicitors disciplinary tribunal was told. Shiner, who is a law professor at Middlesex University, failed to appear at the hearing in central London and was not represented. He has already admitted eight counts of acting without integrity and one of acting recklessly but denies acting dishonestly or misleading the courts. He faces 24 separate charges and is said to be unwell, suffering from stress. Shiner, who lives in Birmingham, has acknowledged he is likely to be professionally disqualified for his misconduct. The tribunal directed that the case should proceed in his absence. Opening the case, Andrew Tabachnik, counsel for the Solicitors Regulation Authority, which is prosecuting, said Shiner’s firm had been paid £1.6m, mainly in legal aid, up to last summer for its work on the Iraqi claims. “At the heart of Prof Shiner’s misconduct [is his belief that] his work in the human rights field was of sufficient moment that he was entitled to ignore the rules that applied to fellow solicitors,” Tabachnik said. Shiner has admitted paying a middleman in Iraq, Mazin Younis, to find those who survived or witnessed the Battle of Danny Boy, in which members of a militia, the Mahdi army, ambushed a British patrol. The men submitted fictitious statements declaring they had evidence of murder, torture and mutilation of Iraqis after the fighting. Shiner’s clients put in accounts that bore no relation to the truth, the tribunal was told. The al-Sweady inquiry in 2014 eventually demonstrated that the claims that Iraqi civilians had been murdered, tortured and mutilated after being captured were “wholly baseless”, Tabachnik said. The investigation cost £25m. Shiner had previously been warned by the Legal Services Board, in relation to previous complaints about Iraqi cases in 2005, to be careful when employing agents to make sure they were not “cold calling” to increase the number of complainants – a practice outlawed by the SRA. A victim’s impact statement from Col James Coote, who was in command at the Danny Boy checkpoint near Basra at the time of the ambush, was read out. “The false allegations levelled against the soldiers in my command were among the most serious against the British army since the second world war,” said Coote. “I didn’t think solicitors could simply make or endorse false statements. I recall my sense of anger and dismay about those allegations. “The nature of those false allegations raised at a press conference (given by Shiner in London in 2008) resulted in an extremely stressful and demoralising decade for me and other soldiers.” Tabachnik said that having spent years pursuing allegations of a cover-up by the British army, Shiner had now been caught carrying out his own cover-up. “Shiner did provide the Legal Services Commission with certain statements but what he failed to do was provide it with other inconsistent statements from witnesses which would have given a very different impression,” Tabachnik added. Shiner failed to disclose a key detainee list which showed that the Iraqi litigants were all members of a militia, the Mahdi army, and not civilians, the tribunal was told. Records of a meeting between Younis and another member of Pil showed that the Iraqi had changed his account of who first contacted him and suggested he begin looking for witnesses and claimants, it was alleged. In the initial statement, Younis was said he have recorded that he was contacted by Shiner. In a later version, the tribunal was told, it was altered to say that the first approach came from a journalist. Tabachnik said emails sent by Shiner indicated he knew what he was doing and that in doing so his conduct was dishonest. Shiner has told the tribunal he was under such stress he was “not responsible” for his actions and, therefore, did not act dishonestly. “The defence to the dishonesty aspect,” Tabachnik said, “is effectively: ‘I was not in full control of my mental faculties at this time and I didn’t know right from wrong and what I am doing.’ But what these emails establish is a pretty clear indication that ... you’re not dealing with somebody incapable of working out whether he was behaving dishonestly or not.” Shiner was “betraying absolutely no indication that he was a man out of his senses”, Tabachnik added. Earlier Shiner was accused by Tabachnik of “manoeuvring” by “moving the tribunal into a position where it is based on his admission and nothing else. “This is all, with respect, manoeuvring … to prevent you engaging with these other [dishonesty] matters. He appeared to be in a state of avoidance.” Tabachnik said a letter had been sent requesting an adjournment. Shiner had stopped paying for legal representation and informed the tribunal he did not wish to receive a bundle of legal documents from the case against him because it would be an invasion of his privacy, the tribunal heard. Another Pil lawyer, John Dickinson, it was disclosed, has been reprimanded and ordered to pay £2,000 in costs in relation to the last charge which Shiner faces – for failing to keep clients informed of the progress of their claims.
YesIraq