SDT suspends ACS:Law founder for two years

ACS:Law founder Andrew Crossley has been suspended from practising for two years and ordered to pay £76,326.55 in costs at a Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) hearing yesterday (16 January).

Crossley, who is bankrupt and represented himself, admitted six charges levied at him by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) as a result of his firm’s practice of sending threatening letters demanding £500 to people accused of copyright infringement, often involving downloading pornography. The charges included using his position as a solicitor to take or attempt to take advantage of other persons, being recipients of letters of claim either for his own benefit or the benefit of his clients.

Crossley contested a seventh charge, concerning his failure to put safeguards in place to protect against accidental loss of data, but was unsuccessful.

The charge concerning data loss stemmed from an incident in September 2010, when a list of 5000 alleged file sharers was leaked from ACS:Law’s website (28 September 2010). Crossley claimed that his firm had come under attack from 700 hackers from activist group Anonymous, which he said had managed to bring down the Swedish government’s website and interrupt Mastercard’s systems.

He also claimed that his internet service provider (ISP) had been negligent, adding that he intended to sue the provider when he had more money.

But the tribunal was unmoved by Crossley’s protests and said that his failure to put up a firewall and his choice of an ISP package costing £5.99 a month were inadequate steps given that he should have known an attack on his systems was a possibility.

The data leak had also been investigated by the Information Commissioner’s Office which imposed a financial penalty of £1,000 on ACS:Law, reduced from £200,000 on account of Crossley’s bankruptcy. The penalty remains unpaid.

The SRA, represented by Capsticks partner Peter Steele, dropped a charge that Crossley had provided false information in statements made to the courts.

Crossley spent the rest of the hearing setting out mitigating factors in relation to the rest of the charges.

Crossley admitted that he allowed his independence to be compromised; acted contrary to the best interests of his clients; acted in a way that was likely to diminish the trust the public places in him or in the legal profession; and entered into arrangements to receive contingency fees for work done in prosecuting or defending contentious proceedings before the courts of England and Wales except as permitted by the statute or law.

He also admitted that he had acted where there was a conflict of interest in circumstances not permitted, in particular because there was a conflict with those of his clients; and used his position as a solicitor to take or attempt to take advantage of other persons being recipients of letters of claim either for his own benefit of benefit of his clients.

ACS:Law had been sending letters to alleged file sharers on behalf of its client Media Cat since 2009 asking for £496 for breach of copyright. In December 2010 the firm had an attempt to secure default judgment against eight alleged pirates dismissed. The firm shut down in February 2011 (8 February 2011) and encountered strong criticism of its methods from Judge Birss QC at the Patents County Court (27 April 2011).