Imagine you’ve advised a client on a divorce and then her former husband decides to complain about you on a website called ‘Solicitors from Hell’.
That’s exactly what happened to Wiltshire firm Awdry Bailey & Douglas and its head of family Adrian Bressington. Their defamation case against the creator of Solcitors from Hell, Rick Kordowski, resulted in him being accused of abusing the court process by the country’s leading libel judge, Mr Justice Tugendhat.
Tugendhat J upheld the claim against the Solicitors from Hell website and said that Kordowski had, through his defence, 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.
The claimants originally 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.
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”.
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. He also 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.” 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 off aggrieved listings.
Kordowski, who appeared as a litigant in person, is hoping to appeal the decision.
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