A leading human rights firm that has specialised in bringing claims on behalf of Iraqi has been stripped of its legal aid contract.
Earlier this week, the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) sanctioned Public Interest Lawyers, set up by the solicitor Phil Shiner, over claims of misconduct for its handling of claims against UK soldiers saying that it was ‘clear that contractual breaches with [the firm’s] contract are proven and warrant investigation by the relevant authorities’. The LAA told The Telegraph that ‘in our view the action PIL was taking could be criminal’. ‘Evidence exists showing that Professor Shiner was aware of “disguised bribes” being paid in relation to publicly funded matters. The dossier will be passed to the National Crime Agency. There has already been contact between the two agencies. This is something that has been looked at for quite some time.’
It was reported that the LAA ‘suspects the alleged “bribes” were paid to Iraqis to bring claims and that those payments were ‘disguised’ as travel and translation expenses, which were then submitted to the Legal Aid Agency’.
The new justice secretary Elizabeth Truss said that the Solicitors Regulation Authority investigation had ‘unearthed some very serious allegations and it will now be for the relevant authorities to decide whether further investigations are required’. ‘But I am determined that public money should not be misused or wasted and I will not tolerate any abuse of the legal aid rules that are so vital to the proper functioning of our justice system,’ she said.
Supporters of Shiner – who has won the Law Society’s solicitor of the year and Liberty and JUSTICE human rights lawyer of the year awards – have said that he is the victim of a political witch hunt. He has been the subject of relentlessly hostile press coverage since 2004 when the Daily Mail ran a front-page story claiming he had ‘caused anger and revulsion’ through his Iraqi cases. It was accompanied by a cartoon of an Iraqi dining with his wife with a phrasebook and a solicitor hanging from the rafters. ‘I’ve just worked out what he said after “I’m English”,’ she says. ‘It was: “Do you want to sue anybody?”’
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