Barrister faces ethics complaint

John Malpas reports

A JOURNALIST who conducted his own defence against a libel action has accused the barrister and solicitors who acted for the plaintiffs of unethical conduct.

Peter Cotterell has filed formal complaints to both the Bar Council and the Solicitors Complaints Bureau after the action against him was discontinued shortly before it was due to go to court.

He accuses James Price, of Patrick Milmo QC's 5 Raymond Buildings chambers, and Macfarlanes of pursuing an "unmeritorious" action to earn a fee. He also claims Macfarlanes brought the action to intimidate him.

The claims are vigorously denied by Macfarlanes and the company it acted for, Blenheim Group. Price preferred not to comment before the investigation's outcome.

Cotterell runs the National Exhibitors Association which publishes news sheets for its members. He was sued after advising readers that money paid to exhibition organisers, Blenheim, was at risk because of a fall in its share price.

Blenheim claimed it had been seriously defamed as the news sheet implied the company was not creditworthy.

Conducting his own defence, Cotterell claimed fair comment. Blenheim discontinued the action in June 1994, paying out u8,500 in costs.

Cotterell says: "I want them to admit there wasn't a shred of libel in the words I wrote, apologise and make an offer of compensation."

Macfarlanes' managing partner Roger Formby retorts: "He has made perfectly outrageous statements both about us and about James Price. He seems to think we simply pursued the thing entirely for our own ends, this is totally outrageous."

Price and Macfarlanes are supported by Blenheim company and legal director Peter Begg. "We were entirely happy with the advice we received."