Phil Shiner, principal of Birmingham firm Public Interest Lawyers, has accused the lord chancellor Chris Grayling of pursuing a 'personal vendetta' against him following the opening of a government investigation into the alleged abuse of millions of pounds in legal aid.
Public Interest Lawyers, along with human rights firm Leigh Day, acted for Iraqis in the judge-led al-Sweady inquiry, opened in 2009 into allegations of ill-treatment by British soldiers. Earlier this year, it emerged that a key document that would have undermined the Iraqis' case had been withheld. The Legal Aid Agency has now launched an investigation into Shiner and PIL.
Leigh Day has admitted to shredding the document. But Shiner strongly denies having seen it and has said Leigh Day accepts he had no knowledge of the document. In a statement on its website Leigh Day said: 'Regrettably the significance of this one page of Arabic was not realised at this time.'
Shiner told the Gazette that the Legal Aid Agency inquiry is politically motivated. 'The lord chancellor, and other members of the cabinet, are engaged in a personal vendetta against me,' said Shiner. 'The lord chancellor knows full well that I have done nothing wrong and seeks only to distract me from my work, especially about serious human rights violations in Iraq and Afghanistan. This behaviour reflects badly on a democratically elected government.'
An MoJ spokesperson confirmed an investigation was opened by the Legal Aid Agency several months ago.
Earlier this month, the Law Society gave public backing to Shiner following a number of death threats against him. Society president Nicholas Fluck, in a letter to the chief constable of West Midlands police, said: 'Every citizen in this country enjoys the protection of the rule of law, [a right that depends] on lawyers presenting their clients' cases without fear or favour, no matter how unpopular some might consider those clients or cases.'