Human rights lawyers are not famous for their sense of humour. So it was something of a surprise to learn that the sour-faced solicitor Phil Shiner lists comedy as one of his hobbies.
For the past decade, Shiner has made a handsome living suing the British taxpayer — at the British taxpayers’ expense.
Shiner is head of the Birmingham-based Public Interest Lawyers (PIL).
Shiner’s firm specialises in bringing actions against the British Army.
Have you been tortured by a British soldier? You could be entitled to compensation.
Shiner is always on the lookout for a jihadist with a grievance which can be used to discredit the Army and win some hard cash. Unlike Blame Direct and the rest of the ‘no win, no fee’ brigade, Shiner gets paid win, lose or draw. He is bankrolled out of the legal aid budget.
Over the years he has secured £3 million compensation for his clients, mostly foreign nationals who have alleged abuse at the hands of British troops in Iraq.
His work won him the prestigious accolade ‘Human Rights Lawyer of the Year’ in 2004.
We don’t know how much he has earned, but legal aid fees clocked up in cases filed by PIL must run into millions. And at a time when the Government is attempting to bring under control the burgeoning £2 billion legal aid budget, Shiner continues to thrive.
This week Shiner turned up on Radio 4’s Today Programme peddling his latest crusade for truth and justice. He was given a prime platform by a gleeful BBC to denounce ‘Britain’s Guantanamo Bay’. Shiner claimed that dozens of Afghans are being held in a ‘secret prison’ at Camp Bastion in Helmand Province. He demanded they should be brought before a court or released. He said: ‘This is a secret facility that’s been used to unlawfully detain or intern up to 85 Afghans that they’ve kept secret, that Parliament doesn’t know about, that courts previously when they have interrogated issues like detention and internment in Afghanistan have never been told about — completely off the radar. ‘And people will be wondering if these detainees are being treated humanely and in accordance with international law.’ This must be where Shiner’s legendary sense of humour comes into play. He should know full well that this isn’t a ‘secret prison’. And he is aware that the Army has been trying to get rid of these prisoners for years. Back in 2010, Britain wanted to hand over the detainees to the Afghan justice system. Eventually the High Court in London ruled that they could not be transferred to the Afghans because they might be tortured, which would breach their Human rites. Far from being ‘detained unlawfully’ they are being held in British custody on the specific orders of a British court. You’d expect Shiner to know that. Because in 2010, the original Camp Bastion case was brought by, you guessed, one Phil Shiner. On legal aid, natch. So how does he explain telling the BBC this was a ‘secret camp’, ‘off the radar’, that the courts haven’t been told about? Now, three years later, he’s heading back to court to argue that the detainees should be put on trial or set free.
Talk about playing both ends. Like Boris Johnson, Shiner appears to be pro-having cake and pro-eating it. But thanks to the success of his earlier lawsuit, the High Court has ruled the prisoners can’t be entrusted to the Afghan legal system. Since Shiner doesn’t approve of military justice, that means they would have to be released back into the local community, where they would be at liberty to resume their terrorist activities.
In comedy, as in life, timing is everything.