Baroness Chakrabarti, the shadow attorney general, has said the disgraced lawyer Phil Shiner did some “very good work” and offered “good service to the public” before he “lost his way”.
Human rights lawyer Shiner was struck off this month after admitting to a string of misconduct charges, including paying middle-men to find Iraqis willing to bring charges of human rights abuses against British soldiers while heading up the Birmingham-based Public Interest Lawyers (PIL).
A professional standards tribunal heard he paid up to £500 for each person they could find, and offered to split the profits from suing the Ministry of Defence, The Telegraph has reported.
Nonetheless, Labour Peer Lady Chakrabarti, speaking on ITV’s Peston on Sunday, insisted he had done good work and that European human rights law should still apply to troops.
“In the past Mr Shiner did some very good work that has been upheld by a judicial inquiry into, for example, the torture and killing of Baha Mousa in Iraq,” she said.
“There was a disciplinary tribunal and I have to respect the outcome of that tribunal. I think it is very sad when a public servant who has given good service to the public, when their career ends in disgrace, and that’s true whether it’s a doctor or a politician or a lawyer. So I am very sad and disappointed.”
PIL’s allegations prompted the Labour government set up the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT) inquiry at a cost of £60 million to investigate allegations that British troops had acted improperly in Iraq. Yet in seven years not a single criminal conviction was secured, and the team is now being wound up.
That decision may have been made earlier had PIL not continued to press cases. A 2015 government report found the Al-Sweady public inquiry, conducted by IHAT, had been extended by up to a year at a cost of hundreds of thousands of pounds thanks to the failure of PIL to disclose they knew allegations against British soldiers to be untrue.
Baroness Chakrabarti, whose campaign group Liberty awarded Shiner the human rights lawyer of the year award in 2004, continued: “It is not for me to speculate on what happened to an individual but sometimes people lose their way. What I think is important, though, is misconduct by an individual should not be used as an excuse to destroy everybody’s human rights.”
She added: “And some of the politics around this, and some of the media coverage, has gone from the terrible misconduct of an individual to an excuse, for example, for pulling out of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects our servicemen as much as it protects everybody else.”
Col Richard Kemp, a former commander of British troops in Afghanistan, said her high-profile support for Shiner meant that Chakrabarti must share some of the blame for the outcome of his misconduct.
“It think she’s an apologist for Shiner and until Shiner met his downfall, she was one of his greatest supporters.” Col Kemp said.
“She was very close and a strong supporter of what he was doing. She says he lost his way, but she helped him lose his way. People like Shiner become emboldened by support from credible people like her.”
Johnny Mercer MP, a former Army captain who led a parliamentary inquiry denouncing IHAT, added: “Shami Chakrabarti’s opinion means nothing to me, or anyone I know in the service community. Trying to retrospectively apply European Human Rights Law to the battlefield demonstrates an almost child-like understanding of military operations.”