It is understood the Solicitors Regulation Authority found the firm had failed to declare, work out, or fully comprehend that detainees they were representing were insurgents and not villagers. They also failed to assess the reliability of claimants whose allegations turned out to be false.
The decision to pass the allegations to a tribunal means up to three of the firm’s employees could be quizzed. If found guilty, they could be struck off, barred from legal practice and fined tens of thousands of pounds.
The development comes after it emerged that the number of cases being examined by the 145-strong Historic Allegations Team (IHAT) has passed 1,500. The investigation into whether Iraqis were ill-treated or unlawfully killed by soldiers will drag on until 2019 at the earliest and cost at least £57million.
A probe into Leigh Day and Public Interest Lawyers by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) began in 2014.
The Ministry of Defence submitted evidence including claims the two firms ‘touted for business’ and persuaded Iraqis to mount legal claims.
Yesterday Paul Philip, chief executive of the SRA, said: ‘We have now referred one of the firms and a number of individuals to the independent Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal. We will be making a decision on the other firm in the near future.
Meanwhile more than 100 veterans and serving soldiers marched to No 10 to deliver a letter to David Cameron calling for an end to the prosecution of war heroes. In a letter, veterans of Iraq and Northern Ireland said: ‘At no time did we think protecting our country could result in being prosecuted for doing our job … we were not informed that solicitors would make money from public-funded legal aid by dragging us into the courts.’
During the Al-Sweady inquiry, it emerged that solicitors acting for Leigh Day destroyed a key document that appeared to show Iraqi claimants were armed insurgents, not innocent farmers.
It was given to the firm in 2007, made public in 2013, then, remarkably, it was destroyed by solicitor Anna Crowther the day before it was due to be handed to inquiry officials.
The contents survived in other forms but it is believed its destruction has made it impossible to establish its veracity.
In 2014, claims which prompted the inquiry were denounced as ‘lies’ by a judge.
Miss Crowther works with Martyn Day, a partner in the firm, and Sapna Malik, on Iraqi claims. It is not known if the three lawyers are the same ones facing the tribunal.
In a statement Leigh Day said: ‘We believe the decision to refer the firm to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal is premature as it has not been given a proper opportunity to respond.’ A spokesman added: ‘We refute all of the allegations made against us.’