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Lawyers 'debt of honour' row.

Byline: Jonathan Walker Political Correspondent

A Birmingham MP has accused a legal firm of 'trying to cash in' on a compensation settlement for Japanese prisoners of war.

The Japanese Labour Camp Survivors' Association has sent letters to ex-servicemen and their widows inviting them to contribute pounds 500 to London legal firm Leigh, Day & Co, from compensation payments made by the Government.

The move was criticised by Steve McCabe (Lab Hall Green) who said: 'I question the morality of this effort to pocket part of the Government's payment to these brave people.'

However, the association last night said it was simply trying to get a fair deal for the lawyers who had worked for more than a decade on a no-win-no-fee basis to get the compensation.

Veterans and their widows received a JLCSA newsletter which claimed the organisation was responsible for the Government's decision last November to make ex-gratia payments of pounds 10,000.

It included a stamped addressed envelope made out to the legal firm and invited veterans to send a cheque payable to the solicitors for payment of their legal fees.

The envelopes contain an identifying number which Mr McCabe said indicate that at least 5,500 had been sent.

The Government has always claimed the compensation is unrelated to the activities of the JLCSA or its legal representatives.

Mr McCabe said he was alerted by a distressed elderly widow who had received a request for money, followed by a reminder when she failed to pay. He said he had checked with the Ministry of Defence which said the pounds 10,000 payout was an ex-gratia payment from the Government.

'No legal firm had influenced the decision in any way,' said Mr McCabe.

'As I understand it these solicitors were engaged to mount an action for damages against the Japanese Government.

'To now describe the lawyers' bill as a debt of honour to these people who have struggled for so long is distasteful to say the least. It sounds to me like a bit of sharp practice and a cunning attempt to cash in.

'If 5,500 of these demands have been sent out and everyone contributed, this firm would stand to make pounds 2,750,000. Surely this cannot be right.'

However, Andrew Titherington, JLCSA chairman, said: 'Can you really imagine that if we had not existed and campaigned for compensation, Mr Blair would have decided to pay compensation?'

Referring to a partner in the legal firm, he said: 'If you believe a labourer is worthy of his hire then you believe Martin Day is worthy of his fee. He always worked on a no win, no fee basis. It makes no difference where the compensation comes from.

'I have spoken to three prime ministers, visited Japan many times and met with numerous MPs and Lords, and Mr Day provided the legal services and was often with me. It is only right that he is paid.'

He said the organisation had always wanted compensation to come from Japan, but the fact the British Government had decided to make payments was down to its lobbying and the publicity it had given the issue.

No one from Leigh, Day & Co was able to comment yesterday.
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Apr 16, 2001
Words:535
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