Peterborough MP Stewart Jackson has criticised a law firm as “immoral, thieving ambulance chasers” who specialise in “hounding” British soldiers with “spurious claims.”
The Conservative MP was speaking after David Cameron had said Labour’s new shadow defence secretary Emily Thornberry had “serious questions to answer” for taking donations from Leigh Day which is facing disciplinary action over its role in an official inquiry into allegations of murder and torture by the British military.
The Prime Minister criticised the appointment of Ms Thornberry in Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s so-called “revenge reshuffle” after Mr Jackson described her acceptance of donations from Leigh Day as “more than a matter of regret.”
The firm has been referred to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) over allegations it destroyed a key document at the centre of the £31 million Al-Sweady inquiry which eventually found that claims of murder and torture by British soldiers were “completely baseless”.
Leigh Day came in for heavy criticism after the inquiry concluded in December 2014, with Defence Secretary Michael Fallon claiming the firm had withheld the document which showed some of the Iraqi detainees who made the claims were insurgents.
Ms Thornberry received a £14,500 donation from the firm between September 2013 and March 2014 to fund a legal research assistant for her office during her time as shadow attorney general.
During Prime Minister’s Questions today (Wednesday, January 6) Mr Jackson said: “Will you agree with me that it’s more than a matter of regret that the new shadow defence secretary has seen fit to take a donation from the immoral, thieving and ambulance chasing lawyers Leigh Day who, together with Public Interest Lawyers, specialise in hounding our brave service personnel in Iraq with spurious claims.
“Is it time that we removed the latter from the pernicious clutches of the Human Rights Act and honoured our manifesto commitment for a British
Bill of Rights?”
Mr Cameron replied: “Taking your questions in turn, yes we should honour our commitment for a British Bill of Rights and I look forward to making
progress on that.
“Look I do think that this organisation Leigh Day does have some questions to answer, not least because they were deeply involved in the Al-Sweady inquiry where a whole lot of claims completely fell apart and there was, it seems, evidence that could have shown that those claims
He added: “And I do think it is instructive that we have lost a shadow secretary of state for defence (Maria Eagle) who believed in strong defence, who believed in our nuclear deterrent, and instead we’ve got someone apparently who takes funds from Leigh Day. I think that leaves us with serious questions to answer.”
Commenting on Mr Jackson’s attack, a Leigh Day spokesperson said: “It is hardly surprising that this Conservative MP has chosen to hide behind
parliamentary privilege to make such a blatantly ridiculous statement about us.”
The Solicitors Regulation Authority announced it had referred Leigh Day to the SDT in a statement which read: “We have decided to refer one of the firms named in the (Al-Sweady) Inquiry, Leigh Day, and a number of individual solicitors, to the independent Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal.
“Papers will be filed with the tribunal in the coming weeks and the SDT will then make a decision on whether or not to hear the allegations.
“Leigh Day has raised issues about the time taken for us to deal with this matter and stated that, in their opinion, the referral was premature as they had not been given sufficient time to respond to the allegations before a referral decision was made.
“The firm has had more than four months to respond to our allegations, with seven weeks to respond to additional allegations. There is no duplication between the two sets of allegations. The firm has not as yet responded to either set.
“These are serious allegations and there is a clear public interest in resolving this matter as quickly as possible.
“We will be making a decision on the other firm, Public Interest Lawyers, in the near future.”
But Leigh Day said: “Leigh Day strongly denies allegations made against it by the Solicitors Regulation Authority in relation to the work it has
conducted on behalf of hundreds of Iraqis who claimed that they had been abused or unlawfully detained by British forces during or in the aftermath of the Iraq war.
“Leigh Day believes the decision to refer the firm to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal is premature as it has not been given a proper opportunity to respond to these allegations.”
Asked about Ms Thornberry’s links with Leigh Day, a senior Labour spokesman said: “I don’t think it’s relevant. Emily has been appointed because she is a capable person, capable of doing the defence brief.
“This is a law firm that represents soldiers. I don’t think they are attacking the British Army.”
Ms Thornberry defended the firm. In an interview with British Forces Broadcasting Services (BFBS), she said: “Leigh Day is an outstanding firm of solicitors. I have no idea what has happened or what these allegations are.
“I understand that they are currently before a solicitors’ tribunal, solicitors’ disciplinary tribunal or something.
“But it had nothing to do with any of the outstanding youngsters who gave their time to help us out here.
“If we started to say that it was up to lawyers to decide whether or not what their clients were saying was correct, we would be flying in the
face of the rule of law.
“It is not for lawyers to decide, it is for the courts to decide. I think it is quite important to bear that in mind.”
She said mistreated personnel and the families of those killed through negligence or wrongdoing by the MoD “have relied on the law and quite