Friday, January 22, 2016

The IHAT cases and the bar

The British government is considering measures that would clamp down on spurious claims against military personnel arising out of operations in Iraq. Some details from this account:
Ministers on the National Security Council have been tasked with drawing up options to end "spurious" claims, including measures to curb the use of "no win, no fee" arrangements. 
Other proposals are set to include speeding up a planned residence for legal aid cases which will require claimants to have lived in the UK for 12 months. . . .
The clampdown on the financial incentives will be accompanied by tough action against any firms found to have abused the system in the past to pursue fabricated claims. . . .
Once disciplinary proceedings have been completed against any firm, the Defence Secretary Michael Fallon has been ordered to prepare the ground for seeking to recover as much of the taxpayers' money spent on the inquiry as possible. 
The Legal Aid Agency has also been asked to review all contracts to establish whether legal aid should be restricted on an interim basis in relation to any firm under investigation for misconduct, and whether such contracts should be scrapped entirely after disciplinary proceedings have been completed. 
The source said: "It would be unprecedented for the Government to sue a law firm in this way - but if they are found to have acted improperly, then it will be the right thing to do. The public, and the soldiers who have been subject to malicious lies, would expect nothing less." . . .
The Iraq Historic Allegations Team (Ihat) has sent documents to around 280 veterans telling them they were involved in an incident under investigation. 
Established in 2010 by the previous Labour government in response to allegations of murder, abuse and torture of Iraqi citizens by British service personnel, the multimillion-pound inquiry is still looking at investigating cases linked to the six-year military mission which came to an end in 2009. 
Ihat's workload reached 1,515 possible victims by September, of whom 280 are alleged to have been unlawfully killed. 
A spokesman for Leigh Day [a law firm that has represented many claimants] said the Prime Minister should not challenge the principle that "no one is above the law" and insisted the firm will "vigorously" defend itself before the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal. . . . 
"We have a system in this country that enables people to obtain justice if they have suffered abuse, damage or loss at the hands of anyone. 
"No-one is above the law, not us, not the British Army and not the Government. We cannot imagine that the Prime Minister is proposing that this should change.
Watch for further developments. One wonders whether the government will be tempted simply to shut down IHAT. Beware of impunity and a chilling effect on legal representation.

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