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Phil Shiner tribunal absence an attempt to avoid full hearing, watchdog claims

A human rights lawyer accused of drumming up false claims against British soldiers during the Iraq War failed to attend his tribunal hearing in an attempt to "avoid" the case being heard more fully, the solicitors' watchdog has claimed.

Phil Shiner, a solicitor who worked for the now-defunct Public Interest Lawyers (PIL), sent the tribunal in central London a letter asking for the case to be adjourned on the basis that he was not well enough, and that he did not have the money to instruct a defence.

But Andrew Tabachnik, representing the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), accused Mr Shiner of being "in a state of avoidance" to prevent the hearing from going ahead in full.

Chairman of the bench Nicola Lucking agreed the tribunal should go ahead in Mr Shiner's absence, during which the effects of his involvement on British military personnel in "cold-calling" the family members of alleged Iraqi victims were heard.

Mr Shiner was due to appear at the hearing having admitted nine allegations of acting without integrity, including that he made "unsolicited direct approaches" to potential clients, at a disciplinary tribunal in December.

He subsequently admitted he would be struck off, but was expected to attend the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) on Monday to answer claims he was dishonest - something he denied.

His admissions last month also included one of acting recklessly by claiming at a press conference in February 2008 that the British Army had unlawfully killed, tortured and mistreated Iraqi civilians - dubbed the Battle of Danny Boy - during the Iraq war.

He also offered "sweeteners" in the way of payment to a fixer to change evidence on how he had identified clients to go before the Al-Sweady Inquiry into the deaths of 20 Iraqis.

Outlining the case, Mr Tabachnik said the inquiry cost £25 million, with more than £1 million going to Mr Shiner's firm.

He described the alleged victims' testimonies - after the inquiry had cleared the British military of murder and torture claims - as being "wholly baseless" and "the product of deliberate and calculated lies".

He said Mr Shiner's clients were prepared to put forward allegations that "had no regard for the truth", and said Mr Shiner had decided he could "disregard the rules" that were meant for fellow solicitors.

He added: "He (Mr Shiner) was prepared to put forward allegations of murder that had no regard for the truth."

Addressing the panel on Monday, Mr Tabachnik read sections of a victim impact statement from Major (now Colonel) James Coote, who was in Basra near where the Danny Boy checkpoint was based, following the incident.

He said: "The false allegations levelled against the soldiers in my command were among the most serious against the British Army since the Second World War.

"I didn't think solicitors could simply make or endorse false statements.

"I recall my sense of anger and dismay about those allegations.

"The nature of those false allegations raised at a press conference (by Mr Shiner in 2008) resulted in an extremely stressful and demoralising decade for me and others."

Mr Tabachnik also accused Mr Shiner of "manoeuvring" to avoid the tribunal.

He said: "We say that what's going on here is that he (Shiner) manoeuvring on his part by moving the tribunal into a position where it is based on his admission and nothing else.

"This is all, with respect, manoeuvring with respect to prevent you engaging with these other matters.

"He appeared to be in a state of avoidance."

Mr Tabachnik said emails sent by Mr Shiner regarding his "agent" in Basra indicated he knew what he was doing and that in doing so his conduct was dishonest - something Mr Shiner denied on the basis that he was under such stress he was "not responsible" for his actions, he said.

Mr Tabachnik said: "The defence to the dishonesty aspect is effectively: 'I was not in full control of my mental faculties at this time and I didn't know right from wrong and what I am doing.'

"But what these emails establish is a pretty clear indication that ... you're not dealing with somebody incapable of working out whether he was behaving dishonestly or not."

He said Mr Shiner was "betraying absolutely no indication that he was a man out of his senses".

The panel is expected to return its findings at the conclusion of the hearing, in around three weeks' time, with a full report due two months later.

The case continues on Tuesday.

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