LAB Gulf contract 'fatally flawed'

THE LEGAL Aid Board's first attempt to award the contract to lead the Gulf War Syndrome multi-party action against the Government was “fatally flawed”, according to a High Court judge.

Mr Justice Ognall ordered the board to re-tender the contract after hearing that five pages of the tender document provided by the unsuccessful Gulf War Solicitors Action Group (GWSAG) went missing before the bid was considered.

The judge also rejected claims that the Territorial Army commission of Roythorne & Co solicitor Mark Fielding, a member of the GWSAG, was a potential conflict of interest.

All his Gulf War clients knew of Fielding's TA membership and had no objections to him acting for them, the court heard.

The Manchester firm Donn & Co, which leads the GWSAG , sought a judicial review following the board's decision in September to award the contract to a consortium made up of King's Lynn firm Dawbarns and Plymouth-based Geoffrey Stevens & Co.

Ordering the tenders to be reconsidered, Mr Justice Ognall said that although the general public might view the dispute over who should have the contract in an “invidious” light, the two rival legal teams were in fact co-operating to ensure effective conduct of the claims.

The decision prompted Gulf War victims to accuse “squabbling solicitors” of delaying their fight against illnesses allegedly suffered due to the war.

Dawbarns partner Richard Barr described the judicial review as unfortunate.

“The more we've gone into these cases the more questions we are uncovering which require serious answers from the Ministry of Defence,” he said.

In a statement, Donn & Co partner Hilary Meridith stressed the judge had decided the judicial review was justified because it involved “a government body awarding tax payers money to a group of solicitors to conduct a multi-party action with more than 800 potential plaintiffs.”