The notorious Kenyan Mau Mau uprising in the 1950s has lead to major legal claims against Britain, but now a human rights law firm is facing an uprising for those who claim its legal fees were “fraudulently” inflated.
In 2010, the firm Leigh Day sued the Government for compensation on behalf of 5,228 former insurgents who rebelled against British colonial rule in Kenya, the Daily Telegraph reports.
Last year, the Foreign Office agreed to pay £19.9 million in an out-of-court settlement after secret Colonial Office files revealed that the Mau Mau had been systematically tortured.
But Leigh Day is now facing legal action in the Kenyan courts over claims that a number of the torture victims it represented were fictitious, that it charged exorbitant fees and failed to pay out the compensation settlement in full.
Leigh Day strongly denies the allegations, which are contained in a statement of claim submitted to the High Court in Nairobi by the Law Society of Kenya.
The matter, which is listed to be heard next month, is likely to prove highly embarrassing to the London-based firm, which has built a reputation as one of Britain’s most successful personal injury and human rights practices.
The Law Society of Kenya claims Leigh Day’s fee of £6.6 million is out of proportion to the compensation settlement reached for the former victims of British torture.
It also accuses Leigh Day of representing its claimants without authority, of negotiating a settlement with the British Government without instructions from victims, of offering legal services in Kenya “without being qualified”, and of not having a valid legal licence.
The claim says that Leigh Day “abused the court process to enrich themselves by taking advantage of poor Kenyans who suffered while fighting for freedom from colonial rule”. It also alleges that the firm “acted unlawfully, unprocedurally, fraudulently and unprofessionally”.
The claim concludes that unless the court intervenes, “an illegality and or a fraud will have been committed and will continue to be committed by persons who purport to represent victims of human- rights violations”.
One of the most serious allegations is that Leigh Day did not pay out the compensation in full and failed to disclose its list of victims because some names were fabricated.
If the lawsuit succeeds, Leigh Day’s fee could be revoked and its licence to practise in Kenya cancelled.
The issue of whether the British taxpayer was defrauded is likely to be examined if the case is heard in open court.
It is understood that the Law Society of Kenya was instructed to act by individuals claiming to be victims of torture who were not part of the original case or have not received compensation they claim they were promised.