John Malpas reports

A JOURNALIST who filed complaints of unethical conduct against a barrister and a solicitors' firm following a libel action has lost round one of his fight.

The Solicitors Complaints Bureau's primary investigation unit has rejected Peter Cotterell's complaint that Macfarlanes pursued an unmeritorious libel action against him (see The Lawyer 4 April).

It says Cotterell has produced no evidence that the firm breached the rules of professional conduct.

He is yet to hear from the Bar Council over similar allegations he has made about the conduct of James Price, of Patrick Milmo QC's 5 Raymond Buildings chambers.

Cotterell, who runs the National Exhibitors Association, was sued following an article in the news sheet he edits advising readers that money paid to exhibition organisers Blenheim Group was at risk because of a fall in the company's share price.

The action was discontinued shortly before it was due to go to court and Cotterell was paid u8,500 in costs.

Price and Macfarlanes acted for Blenheim.

Cotterell claimed the action was brought to intimidate him, but the bureau concluded Macfarlanes had a duty to do their best for their client unless instructions were clearly illegal or improper, and there was no evidence of that.

A letter to Cotterell added: "Messrs Macfarlanes must also keep their client's affairs confidential and it would not, therefore, be proper for the bureau to ask Messrs Macfarlanes what instructions they received."

Cotterell is unhappy with the bureau's response and is pressing further for an investigation.

Macfarlanes' litigation partner Tony Thompson says: "We were never informed that an investigation was taking place, but we are not at all surprised if a complaint has been rejected as there were absolutely no grounds for complaint whatsoever."