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The country’s leading defamation judge Mr Justice Tugendhat has upheld a defamation claim against the ‘Solicitors from Hell’ website and told its creator Rick Kordowski he abused court process.
Tugendhat J said Kordowski had, through his defence of the defamation claim,abused the process of court by “seeking to cause the claimants to incur costs which he says they have no prospect of recovering from himself”.
Kordowski’s website claims to ‘name and shame’ underperforming lawyers by allowing consumers to comment publicly about the service they have received.
Wiltshire firm Awdry Bailey & Douglas and its head of family Adrian Bressington went to the High Court to get an injunction to force Kordowski to remove a client comment made on the site in September last year.
The firm also asked the court to consider restraining Kordowski’s site from repeating the defamatory comments or words similar and order it to publish an apology.
5RB barrister Victoria Jolliffe was instructed to act for the firm directly.
According to Tugendhat J’s judgment, when Awdry Bailey & Douglas originally complained about the comment Kordowski responded by referring to the website’s “administration and monitoring scheme”. This allows subscribers to the scheme to pay a one-off fee to have any comments against them removed.
Having refused to pay the fee, the firm filed particulars of its claim to the High Court. The defendant then entered his first defence, which, according to Tugendhat J, “consisted of a general denial” and a plea that the comments were not his.
A second defence was submitted to the court in response to the firm’s argument that the first submitted by Kordowski was inadequate. In his second witness statement Kordowski insisted the words published on his site were “true” and were in fact “fair (honest) comment”.
However, it then transpired that the author of the comment was not, as previously thought, a client of Awdry Bailey & Douglas, but rather the former husband of a client of the firm.
In December, the firm applied for the defence to be struck out and for assessment of damages.
Kordowski responded by adding a third defence, in which he submitted that the claimant had rejected a Part 36 offer. The judgment states: “The so-called offer provided that the claimants should give notice of discontinuance and agree to pay Mr Kordowski’s costs in the sum of £1,500 on the grounds that the claim was doomed to fail.”
In addition, Kordowski emphasised the defence of qualified privilege arguing that he had a “moral and/or social duty to inform others of the wrongdoing or negligence of some solicitors”.
However, Tugendhat J held that: “In these circumstances it’s plain and obvious that the defence or defences must be struck out. Whether taken together, or separately, none of the documents or witness statements served by Mr Kordowski disclose any reasonable ground for defending this claim.”
Ruling in favour of the firm he ordered Kordowski to remove the comments and restrained him from publishing any others words about the firm.
The website was launched in 2005, but it was not until 2009 that Kordowski began charging solicitors to take of aggrieved listings. According to his website the £299 fee provides “an escape route” for lawyers listed on the site and “encourages them not to spend the £30,000 it frequently costs to pursue a libel claim against Kordowski, who is the publisher of, but not the source of, the criticism listed”.
Kordowski, who appeared as a litigant in person, is hoping to appeal the decision.