Between January and July 2016, Public Interest Lawyers (PIL) was paid for its work for the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT), which investigated claims UK armed forces committed human rights abuses against civilians during the Iraq war.
During this period, however, the firm's team leader Phil Shiner was being investigated for UK Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) over allegations that he had acted dishonestly, without integrity, corruptly and recklessly.
A spokesperson for the MoD told Sputnik the payments, which totaled $264,754 (£208,342) over the period, were agreed before the SRA investigation began. The money was paid out of the UK Legal Aid budget.
"PIL were a firm we were working with in our investigations, and the fees were judged necessary to effectively investigate the cases our organization was considering. They were agreed long before everything involving Phil Shiner kicked off, and we continued paying in line with our contractual obligations – when the contract period ended, we ceased payments immediately."
Of the 24 separate allegations against Mr. Shiner the SRA considered, he acknowledged the validity of all but six, fully admitting to nine charges, and partially accepting a further nine.
The charges included improperly paying tens of thousands to individuals in Iraq to find him clients, making unsolicited, direct approaches to potential clients via an intermediary, falsifying expense documents, entering into a number of improper fee arrangements, making improper public allegations about British Army conduct in Iraq and misrepresenting the progress of the al-Sweady Inquiry (which examined claims Britons mistreated Iraqis in May 2004) to his clients.
The inquiry found troops guilty of maltreatment of Iraqi detainees, but also that Iraqi witnesses had told several "deliberate and calculated lies."
In December 2016, the SRA referred the case to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal, with hearings scheduled to run for four weeks, commencing January 23. Mr. Shiner had initially attempted to keep the proceedings private, but retracted his request in November following tabloid pressure. He could be struck off if found guilty of malpractice.
Hounding of Phil Shiner looks very bad from abroad. Even if all allegations are true, statements by ministers and tabloids over the top. https://t.co/uM10o4sna0— Mads Andenæs (@MadsAndenas) November 18, 2016
A source close to the matter told Sputnik that the SRA investigation involved a huge amount of complex, detailed evidence, and may have cost as much as $635,200 (£500,000) to pursue, making it one of the most expensive cases in the organisation’s history.
PIL rose to prominence in 2004, when it began representing Iraqis who claimed they had been subjected to human rights abuses by British forces in Iraq.
The firm continued its crusade for over a decade, pursuing over 1,100 cases of alleged wrongdoing and killings by UK military personnel during the six-year military engagement. Of the 324 cases successfully prosecuted prior to its closure in August 2016, the MoD estimates it has paid out in excess of $25 million (£20 million) in compensation.