The Law Society and Bar Council should investigate defamatory comments made on the Solicitors from Hell website to find an effective route of redress for firms named on the website, the High Court has said.
Ruling in a defamation claim against the website’s operator Rick Kordowski, Mr Justice Henriques said: “The time has surely arrived for the Law Society and Bar Council to consider some effective response to the conduct complained of in this case and other similar cases.
“No doubt the legal profession does, on occasion, fail those who seek its services. However, many conscientious and highly reputable firms and individuals have found themselves as objects of offensive abuse and defamatory publication at the behest of disappointed litigants.”
Kordowski was the named defendant in an interim injunction claim brought by Thames Valley firm Gabbitas Robins Solicitors and partner Stephen Robins, who has practised as a lawyer for 30 years.
The second defendant in the matter was named as Tim Smee, an opposing party in a separate litigation against a client of the claimant firm.
The claimants sought injunctive relief from the court after Smee had posted a comment on the Solicitors from Hell website claiming that Robins is the “most dishonourable, unscrupulous lawyer I [Smee] have ever met”.
The claimants’ barrister, Wilberforce Chambers’ Nikki Singla, argued that a court order should be granted forcing Kordowski to remove the comments and agree not to publish words similar to the post again.
In his defence, Kordowski, who represented himself, argued that the comments could be justified and should be characterised as “fair comment”.
Henriques J could only accept the justification argument if the statements published could be accepted by the court as true. The judge said they could not and therefore rejected the defence.
On the fair comment defence, the judge accepted that comments published had been preceded by the phrase “it is my honest opinion”, but found that that did not qualify the fair comment defence.
“So far as the first defendant [Kordowski] is concerned, fair comment does not apply if the defendant has simply regurgitated the opinions of others without knowledge of the underlying facts upon which they were based,” the judge added..
“It’s plain that the first defendant published the material on 4 March with no knowledge whatsoever of any underlying facts.”
The judge also rejected a qualified privilege defence put forward, claiming that the site was a journalistic endeavour to expose rogue lawyers and was in the public interest.
However, the claimants successfully argued that qualified privilege could not exist because the defendant charged £299 to have the comments removed. According to the judgment: “The contention of qualified privilege cannot prevail in light of such removal fee.”
The judgment, which was read out in open court, calls on the Law Society and Bar Council to investigate the impact the site was having on its smaller members.
Meanwhile, Mr Justice Tugendhat, who oversaw a separate defamation claim against Kordowksi, said the defendant had abused court process by “seeking to cause the claimants to incur costs which he says they have no prospect of recovering from himself” (5 April 2011).