Injunction and damages in libel case awarded against anonymous website

17 September 2015 by

solicitors-from-hell-co-u-006Brett Wilson LLP v Person(s) Unknown, Responsible for the Operation of the Website solicitorsfromhell.co.uk, 7 September (Warby J) [2015] EWHC 2628 (QB) – read judgment

This was a claim in libel by a firm of solicitors who acted for another firm which also claimed against the operators of SFHUK, causing the original site to be shut down (Law Society v Rick Kordowski [2011]). In this case the words complained of appeared on a new site, but despite efforts by the present claimants, it was not possible to find out who was operating it. The site alleged various aspects of mismanagement, including incompetence and fraud. It also quoted a client of the claimant firm who alleged overcharging and who refused to pay their fees. (It is worth noting that the site appears to have been taken down since default judgement was given in this case)

Background to the litigation 

A letter of claim dated 20 February 2015 was emailed to an “info@” address of SFHUK.com, but received no response. In April this year the Law Society and the claimant obtained a Norwich Pharmacal order against Anonymous Speech, the company operating the server by proxy, requiring it to disclose identifying information in relation to the owner/operator of SFHUK.com. The order provided for its service by email to contact@anonymousspeech.com and abuse@anonymousspeech.com and two physical addresses, one in Tokyo and the other in Panama. There was no response. So when, on 28 July 2015, the claimants started this action claiming damages for libel and an injunction to restrain the continued publication of the words complained of, they issued their claim form against “Persons Unknown responsible for the operation and publication of the website [SFUK.com]”.The legitimacy of the “persons unknown” procedure has been recognised for years, made necessary by the elusive nature of some website operators. In this case, the defendant made no response at all to the service of the Particulars of Claim and Response Pack.

In the light of this, the claimants sought judgement in default. The court in such circumstances is required to consider the right of the defendant to receive notice, and also Section 12 of the Human Rights Act 1998 which was engaged because the order the claimants sought involved “relief which, if granted, might affect the exercise of the Convention right to freedom of expression” within the meaning of s 12(1). Section 12(2) prohibits the court from granting such relief if the respondent is neither present nor represented, unless satisfied

(a) that the applicant has taken all reasonable steps to notify the respondent; or (b) that there are compelling reasons why the respondent should not be notified.

Decision of the Court

Warby J had no doubt that the claim would have come to the attention of those responsible for the operation of SFHUK.com.  He concluded that the reason why the defendants were not present or represented at this hearing is that they wished to remain anonymous, and were “hiding”.

They have decided, in my judgment, to avoid engaging with the court process. I see no reason not to proceed in their absence. On the contrary, there is good reason to proceed in their absence. Any other course would lead to delay and further cost, without any justification.

The judge was also satisfied that the requirements of Section 10 of the Defamation Act 2013 had been fulfilled, in that the defendants named as “Persons Unknown” were “editors” of the words complained of, even though it was not alleged that they were authors or publishers of the allegations. The court therefore had jurisdiction to consider the libel claim.

The Particulars of Claim alleged that the defendants’ words had a number of defamatory meanings, including that

The Claimant is a shameless, corrupt, fraudulent, dishonest, unethical, incompetent and oppressive firm of solicitors which does not provide competent services, has had a justified complaint made against them and whose wrongdoing should be exposed to prevent others from suffering by instructing them.

The judge was satisfied that these allegations had caused the claimants financial harm. The firm, which has been in existence for only five years, is a small boutique business which relies on much of its work coming from internet searches.

Where work comes from a different source, it is usual for the prospective client to undertake some sort of ‘due diligence’, this would typically involve a Google search. For six months, Google searches for Brett Wilson LLP or Brett Wilson solicitors had produced the following result within the top five listings, immediately below links to the firm’s own website:

“SOLICITORS FROM HELL – Brett Wilson LLP Solicitors …
[web address given]
Rude, intimidating and threatening. Clients should stay well away from Brett Wilson Solicitors.Have you complained about your solicitor and got nowhere?”
iv) “… the publication has been read, and will inevitably continue to be read, by a number of prospective clients considering instructing the Claimant and undertaking research on the Claimant’s reputation” (para 22 of the Particulars of Claim).

The claimant also believed that there had been a “noticeable drop” in the conversion of enquiries from prospective clients to instructions over the past six months. Warby J was satisfied that the pleaded allegations made out a case for the grant of injunctions against the defendants. As required by Section 12 of the Human Rights Act, the judge had to have particular regard to the effect of such an injunction on the defendant’s right to free speech. Such interference was justified by the legitimate aim of protecting the claimants reputation of the claimant against false and damaging allegations of misconduct.

I bear in mind that it is contrary to the public interest for false or misleading information to be issued on matters of this kind.

As for the remedy, the judge accepted the claim for summary relief under Section 9 of the Defamation Act 1996, which limits damages to £10,000. The procedure was invoked here in order to bring a swift end to the matter and avoid assessment proceedings which might well have been disproportionately expensive. The claimant also sought both prohibitory and mandatory injunctions, including the removal from the World Wide Web of specified webpages, and the removal from the SFHUK.com website of any metadata or search engine links which refer to the claimant as ‘solicitors from hell’ or ‘lawyers from hell’.

Although Warby J “hesitated” over these mandatory orders, given that they would impose obligations which the defendants might be unable in practice to perform, he was ultimately satisfied that these aspects of the order sought were legitimate, given the way the defendants were described and defined.

As noted at the top of this post, the injunctions appear to have been successful.

Sign up to free human rights updates by email, Facebook, Twitter or RSS

Related posts:

 

 

 

5 comments


  1. […] slander, and libel are the trio of ways in which somebody can hurt your popularity. The three of them cause harm to […]

  2. John Love says:

    While it may be true to say; Such interference was justified by the legitimate aim of protecting the claimants reputation of the claimant against false and damaging allegations of misconduct.

    What about those complaints that were true and justified with the aim of protecting the public from those who would abuse the public trust? If the right to free speech is to be protected, then the right to publicise legitimate matters are in the public interest. The justification for cases of this nature being brought to UK Courts to put gagging orders or otherwise silence criticism of firms on the international cross jurisdictions internet is a waste of public money. – Any site that is having the level of attention that could be thought of as in the public interest, will cause a feeding frenzy and many other sites will reappear outside the jurisdiction of UK courts as they have done from the original solicitors from hell. It appears that there is a great deal of ignorance about how the internet works and that everything that get published gets read and republished in one form or another. The solicitors and others taking action to silence criticism through the courts risk the matter being shouted even louder.

  3. daveyone1 says:

    Reblogged this on World4Justice : NOW! Lobby Forum..

  4. GREAT site “solicitors from hell uk” ;Long may it flourish in one form or another !

Comments are closed.

Welcome to the UKHRB


This blog is run by 1 Crown Office Row barristers' chambers. Subscribe for free updates here. The blog's editorial team is:
Commissioning Editor: Jonathan Metzer
Editorial Team: Rosalind English
Angus McCullough QC David Hart QC
Martin Downs
Jim Duffy

Free email updates


Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog for free and receive weekly notifications of new posts by email.

Subscribe

Categories


Tags


7/7 Bombings 9/11 A1P1 Aarhus Abortion Abu Qatada Abuse Access to justice adoption AI air pollution air travel ALBA Allergy Al Qaeda Amnesty International animal rights Animals anonymity Article 1 Protocol 1 Article 2 article 3 Article 4 article 5 Article 6 Article 8 Article 9 article 10 Article 11 article 13 Article 14 article 263 TFEU Artificial Intelligence Asbestos Assange assisted suicide asylum asylum seekers Australia autism badgers benefits Bill of Rights biotechnology birds directive blogging Bloody Sunday brexit Bribery British Waterways Board Catholic Church Catholicism Chagos Islanders Charter of Fundamental Rights child protection Children children's rights China christianity circumcision citizenship civil liberties campaigners civil partnerships climate change clinical negligence closed material procedure Coercion Cologne Commission on a Bill of Rights common buzzard common law communications competition confidentiality confiscation order conscientious objection consent conservation constitution contact order contempt of court Control orders Copyright coronavirus costs costs budgets Court of Protection crime criminal law Criminal Legal Aid criminal records Cybersecurity Damages data protection death penalty declaration of incompatibility defamation DEFRA Democracy village deportation deprivation of liberty derogations Detention devolution Dignitas dignity Dignity in Dying diplomacy director of public prosecutions disability Disability-related harassment disciplinary hearing disclosure Discrimination Discrimination law disease divorce DNA doctors does it matter? domestic violence Dominic Grieve don't ask don't ask don't tell don't tell Doogan and Wood double conviction DPP guidelines drones duty of care ECHR economic and social rights economic loss ECtHR Education election Employment Environment environmental information Equality Act Equality Act 2010 ethics Ethiopia EU EU Charter of Fundamental Rights EU costs EU law European Convention on Human Rights European Court of Human Rights European Court of Justice european disability forum European Sanctions Blog Eurozone euthanasia evidence Exclusion extra-jurisdictional reach of ECHR extra-territoriality extradition extradition act extradition procedures extradition review extraordinary rendition Facebook Facebook contempt facial recognition fair procedures Fair Trial faith courts fake news Family family courts family law family legal aid Family life fatal accidents act Fertility fertility treatment FGM fisheries fishing rights foreign criminals foreign office foreign policy France freedom of assembly Freedom of Association Freedom of Expression freedom of information Freedom of Information Act 2000 freedom of movement freedom of speech free speech game birds gangbo gang injunctions Garry Mann gary dobson Gary McFarlane gay discrimination Gay marriage gay rights gay soldiers Gaza Gaza conflict Gender General Dental Council General Election General Medical Council genetic discrimination genetic engineering genetic information genetics genetic testing Google government Grenfell grooming Gun Control gwyneth paltrow gypsies habitats habitats protection Halsbury's Law Exchange hammerton v uk happy new year harassment Hardeep Singh Haringey Council Harkins and Edwards Health healthcare health insurance Heathrow heist heightened scrutiny Henry VII Henry VIII herd immunity hereditary disorder High Court of Justiciary Hirst v UK HIV HJ Iran HM (Iraq) v The Secretary of state for the home department [2010] EWCA Civ 1322 Holder holkham beach holocaust homelessness Home Office Home Office v Tariq homeopathy hooding Hounslow v Powell House of Commons Housing housing benefits Howard League for Penal Reform how judges decide cases hra damages claim Hrant Dink HRLA HS2 hs2 challenge hts http://ukhumanrightsblog.com/2011/04/11/us-state-department-reports-on-uk-human-rights/ Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority human genome human rights Human Rights Act Human Rights Act 1998 human rights advocacy Human rights and the UK constitution human rights commission human rights conventions human rights damages Human Rights Day human rights decisions Human Rights Information Project human rights news Human Rights Watch human right to education human trafficking hunting Huntington's Disease HXA hyper injunctions Igor Sutyagin illegality defence immigration Immigration/Extradition Immigration Act 2014 immigration appeals immigration detention immigration judge immigration rules immunity increase of sanction India Indonesia Infrastructure Planning Committee inherent jurisdiction inherited disease Inhuman and degrading treatment injunction Inquest Inquests insult insurance insurmountable obstacles intelligence services act intercept evidence interception interests of the child interim remedies international international conflict international criminal court international humanitarian law international human rights international human rights law international law international treaty obligations internet internet service providers internment internship inuit investigation investigative duty in vitro fertilisation Iran iranian bank sanctions Iranian nuclear program Iraq Iraqi asylum seeker Iraq War Ireland irrationality islam Israel Italy iTunes IVF ivory ban jackson reforms Janowiec and Others v Russia ( Japan Jason Smith Jeet Singh Jefferies Jeremy Corbyn jeremy hunt job Jogee John Hemming John Terry joint enterprise joint tenancy Jon Guant Joseph v Spiller journalism judaism judges Judges and Juries judging Judicial activism judicial brevity judicial deference judicial review Judicial Review reform judiciary Julian Assange jurisdiction jury trial JUSTICE Justice and Security Act Justice and Security Bill Justice and Security Green Paper Justice Human Rights Awards JUSTICE Human Rights Awards 2010 just satisfaction Katyn Massacre Kay v Lambeth Kay v UK Ken Clarke Ken Pease Kerry McCarthy Kettling Kings College Klimas koran burning Labour Lady Hale lansley NHS reforms LASPO Law Commission Law Pod UK Law Society Law Society of Scotland leave to enter leave to remain legal aid legal aid cuts Legal Aid desert Legal Aid Reforms legal blogs Legal Certainty legal naughty step Legal Ombudsman legal representation legitimate expectation let as a dwelling Leveson Inquiry Levi Bellfield lewisham hospital closure lgbtq liability Libel libel reform Liberal Democrat Conference Liberty libraries closure library closures Libya licence conditions licence to shoot life insurance life sentence life support limestone pavements limitation lisbon treaty Lithuania Litigation litvinenko live exports local authorities locked in syndrome london borough of merton London Legal Walk London Probation Trust Lord Bingham Lord Bingham of Cornhill Lord Blair Lord Goldsmith lord irvine Lord Judge speech Lord Kerr Lord Lester Lord Neuberger Lord Phillips Lord Rodger Lord Sumption Lord Taylor LSC tender luftur rahman machine learning MAGA Magna Carta mail on sunday Majority Verdict Malcolm Kennedy malice Margaret Thatcher Margin of Appreciation margin of discretion Maria Gallastegui marriage material support maternity pay Matthew Woods Mattu v The University Hospitals of Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust [2011] EWHC 2068 (QB) Maya the Cat Mba v London Borough Of Merton McKenzie friend Media and Censorship Medical medical liability medical negligence medical qualifications medical records medicine mental capacity Mental Capacity Act Mental Capacity Act 2005 Mental Health mental health act mental health advocacy mental health awareness Mental Health Courts Mental illness merits review MGN v UK michael gove Midwives migrant crisis Milly Dowler Ministerial Code Ministry of Justice Ministry of Justice cuts misfeasance in public office modern slavery morality morocco mortuaries motherhood Motor Neurone disease Moulton Mousa MP expenses Mr Gul Mr Justice Eady MS (Palestinian Territories) (FC) (Appellant) v Secretary of State for the Home Department murder murder reform Musician's Union Muslim NADA v. SWITZERLAND - 10593/08 - HEJUD [2012] ECHR 1691 naked rambler Naomi Campbell nationality National Pro Bono Week national security Natural England nature conservation naturism Nazi negligence Neuberger neuroscience Newcastle university news News of the World new Supreme Court President NHS NHS Risk Register Nick Clegg Nicklinson Niqaab Noise Regulations 2005 Northern Ireland nuclear challenges nuisance nursing nursing home Obituary Occupy London offensive jokes Offensive Speech offensive t shirt oil spill olympics open justice oppress OPQ v BJM orchestra Osama Bin Laden Oxford University paramountcy principle parental rights parenthood parking spaces parliamentary expenses parliamentary expenses scandal Parliamentary sovereignty Parliament square parole board passive smoking pastor Terry Jones patents Pathway Students Patrick Quinn murder Pensions persecution personal data Personal Injury personality rights perversity Peter and Hazelmary Bull PF and EF v UK Phil Woolas phone hacking phone taps physical and mental disabilities physician assisted death Pinnock Piracy Plagiarism planning planning human rights planning system plebgate POCA podcast points Poland Police police investigations police liability police misconduct police powers police surveillance Policy Exchange report political judges Politics Politics/Public Order poor reporting Pope Pope's visit Pope Benedict portal possession proceedings power of attorney PoW letters to ministers pre-nup pre-nuptial Pre-trial detention predator control pregnancy press press briefing press freedom Prince Charles prince of wales princess caroline of monaco principle of subsidiarity prior restraint prison Prisoners prisoners rights prisoners voting prisoner vote prisoner votes prisoner voting prison numbers Prisons prison vote privacy privacy injunction privacy law through the front door Private life private nuisance private use proceeds of crime Professional Discipline Property proportionality prosecution Protection of Freedoms Act Protection of Freedoms Bill Protest protest camp protest rights Protocol 15 psychiatric hospitals Public/Private public access publication public authorities Public Bodies Bill public inquiries public interest public interest environmental litigation public interest immunity Public Order Public Sector Equality Duty putting the past behind quango quantum quarantine Queen's Speech queer in the 21st century R (on the application of) v Secretary of State for the Home Department & Ors [2011] EWCA Civ 895 R (on the application of) v The General Medical Council [2013] EWHC 2839 (Admin) R (on the application of EH) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2012] EWHC 2569 (Admin) R (on the application of G) v The Governors of X School Rabone and another v Pennine Care NHS Foundation Trust [2012] UKSC 2 race relations Rachel Corrie Radmacher Raed Salah Mahajna Raed Saleh Ramsgate raptors rehabilitation Reith Lectures Religion resuscitation RightsInfo right to die right to family life right to life Right to Privacy right to swim riots Roma Romania Round Up Royals Russia saudi arabia Scotland secrecy secret justice Secret trials security services sexual offence Sikhism Smoking social media social workers South Africa south african constitution Spain special advocates spending cuts Standing starvation statelessness stem cells stop and search Strasbourg super injunctions Supreme Court Supreme Court of Canada surrogacy surveillance swine flu Syria Tax Taxi technology Terrorism terrorism act tort Torture travel treason treaty accession trial by jury TTIP Turkey Twitter UK Ukraine unfair consultation universal jurisdiction unlawful detention USA US Supreme Court vaccination vicarious liability Wales War Crimes Wars Welfare Western Sahara Whistleblowing Wikileaks wildlife wind farms WomenInLaw Worboys wrongful birth YearInReview Zimbabwe

Disclaimer


This blog is maintained for information purposes only. It is not intended to be a source of legal advice and must not be relied upon as such. Blog posts reflect the views and opinions of their individual authors, not of chambers as a whole.

Our privacy policy can be found on our ‘subscribe’ page or by clicking here.

%d bloggers like this: