Famous rights lawyer faces criminal inquiry

The lawyer and his law firm may have paid bribes funded by taxpayers to Iraqis to lodge abuse claims versus British troops.

Phil Shiner, who rose to prominence in the UK for representing Iraqis in abuse cases against the British military, will be fighting off a criminal inquiry by legal regulators.
Authorities are looking into whether Shiner, 59, knew of alleged bribes by his law firm Public Interest Lawyers (PIL) to Iraqis to lodge complaints, some proven to be bogus.
These bribes are said to have been claimed from taxpayer-funded legal aid masked as legitimate law firm expenses, The Telegraph reported.
Shiner founded Birmingham-based PIL in 1999 and owns all PIL equity. He has been recognised as a human rights lawyer, particularly for going after British troops under the Human Rights Act.
PIL have lodged nearly 200 compensation claims and more than 1,000 claims of alleged wrongdoing by British troops, according to The Telegraph. These cases include murder.
Shiner's high-profile cases include the inquiry to the killing of hotel manager Baha Mousa who was beaten to death while in British custody. The UK's Ministry of Defence compensated Mousa's family and nine other individuals £2.83 million in 2008.
Shiner has won awards and appointments for his work. He was named Liberty's Human Rights Lawyer of the Year in 2004, awarded the Law Society's Solicitor or the year in 2007, and appointed as honorary law professor of the Metropolitan University of London before being appointed law professor at Middlesex University in 2014.
However, his troubles also began in 2014 when the Al-Sweady inquiry, in which PIL represented claimants, found Iraqi witnesses falsified claims, casting doubt on PIL's numerous cases over the years.
The Al-Sweady report released December 2014 found that claims of the murder and mutilation of Iraqis following a fierce three-hour gun battle in 2004 were "reckless speculation".
While the inquiry – which started in 2009 and cost taxpayers £31 million – found that there was mistreatment, it concluded that it was not deliberate.
After the publication of the Al-Sweady report, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), the solicitors’ watchdog in England and Wales, began an investigation into the conduct of PIL and the law firm Leigh Day which also represented claimants.
It is understood that the Ministry of Defence provided the SRA with a dossier on PIL for the investigation.
After an 18-month investigation, the SRA endorsed the investigation to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) which can order solicitors be struck off the roll. The SRA also provided information to the Legal Aid Agency.
Shiner is fighting to have the SDT hearings closed to the public.
Meanwhile, the Legal Aid Agency on Tuesday revoked PIL's access to taxpayer money after its own 18-month investigation.
PIL has received £3 million from the agency to fund cases over the years. The Ministry of Defence has spent over £20 million in compensation in 324 abuse cases.
Legal Aid has also prepared a dossier on Shiner for the National Crime Agency which investigates serious and organised crime. The Telegraph quotes a source saying PIL's conduct "could be criminal."
In particular, PIL could have paid 'bribes' to Iraqis in exchange for abuse claims. These 'bribes' were possibly claimed by PIL from the Legal Aid Agency as travel and translation expenses.
PIL has vowed to fight the allegations which it maintains as baseless. PIL and Shiner have not been proven to have committed crimes and authorities investigating the matter stress that the allegations are still unverified at the moment.

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