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back to article Solicitors from hell website unplugged by libel judge

A website that allows users to 'name and shame' lawyers whose services they are unhappy with has been ordered to close after the High Court ruled its publisher had breached libel, data protection and harassment laws. The High Court ruled that solicitorsfromhell.co.uk should be shut down and its publisher Rick Kordowski …

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Anonymous Coward

Pulling Rank

Classic case. If that were a website naming and shaming shoe shops, it would have taken years to get to court and the judge wouldn't have been so 'Joe Stalin' in their attitude toward the defendant.

I wish I'd have known about this site before it closed.

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Facepalm

what did you expect?

The law society defended the lawyers, shock horror. Reminds me of when I complained to them about being ripped off by a lawyer - nothing happened.

He should file a complaint with the recently formed independent legal complaints service! A service formed BECAUSE the law society are famously protective of their own.

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Anonymous Coward

@Stone Fox

When the vendors' solicitors screwed up (I won't go into details) when I purchased my house, it was the Law Society who dealt with them and sanctioned them for their screw up.

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Bronze badge

This is going to get me downvoted to hell by the ignorant, but hey.

The site was not a complaints site, it was a for profit business. It made money by emailing a solicitors firm before a "review" about their site would be published offering them the chance to have that "review" not published for £XXX, or more after it was live on the site.

It was alleged that quite a lot of the "reviews" on there were actually complete fabrication. Some of them certainly were and you could tell that simply because they complained about things that were not actually possible (ie; complaints about the service provided by an english solicitors practice doing Scottish conveyancing who didn't and couldn't offer Scottish conveyancing services)

The suspicion in the legal world was that he was actually writing his own "reviews" and then demanding money to take them down. Given that was the speculation many years ago when I was doing IT at a Solicitors practice I'm hardly surprised that the place ended up being shut down.

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Holmes

if that were true

if the above were true, then that near enough amounts to blackmail, extortion and demanding money with menace... in other words, criminal record and jail time a possibility.

I would imagine that this would work across many industries but the mark would more likely pay up and avoid the legal hassles of getting it pulled down... solicitors firms would be the total opposite and would imagine very few would pay up, most would bite back....

a very dangerous game to play if you ask me...

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Thanks for filling in the gaps. Seems like the accused was behaving like a cock and chose completely the wrong group of people to victimise.

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Gone but not forgotten

Just go to the Wayback machine site and look it up.

It is all archived for your future enjoyment...

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Anonymous Coward

If there was lies (libel), blackmail and extorsion as described by Peter2, I struggle to understand why that guy wasn't sued to the bone for these crimes by the laywers. So I find it hard to believe that explanation really.

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Bronze badge

He has been sued to the bone. Repeatedly.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/law/2011/mar/25/solicitors-from-hell-rick-kordowski

That was a more recent case, where he was hit with a £10k fine for "baseless, abusive, malicious" comments. IE. Fabricated. But you can pay to have the comments removed!

In that article, he even says that he's posted "solicitors from hell" articles from people that the solicitors never represented such as the defendants who lost a case. In addition, he tacitly admits in that article that he has "sold" a lifetime protection scam (not just a single removal) to numerous solicitors firms.

Still hard to beleive that explanation for why his site was shut down? The surprise is that it didn't happen sooner.

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jai
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interesting

So was the site actually pushing lies about specific solicitors then? Or is that just how it had been spun to get the court ruling?

On a different note, did anyone else find that the article itself seemed to be written in legalese? Felt like every 2nd paragraph was saying the same thing, just in slightly different wording.

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Well, it was written by Out-Law, which is a law firm and partner of The Reg. Like all court cases (especially ones involving libel) it has to be carefully constructed for legal reasons. The piece could be shorter, I grant you, but then we could be accused of dumbing down what is a tricky area of law, leaving out details or similar.

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"personal data"

the article mentions the site publishing "personal data"

was this just names and office locations of firms, or were they actually publishing home addresses, phone numbers, etc.? Were comments on the site suggesting violence or other retaliation against particular people?

Curious because things like this have played a big role in similar situations here in the US in establishing a line between protected, but negative, opinion and harassment (I know our libel laws are much more relaxed than those in the UK).

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Pirate

" the article mentions the site publishing "personal data"

was this just names and office locations of firms, or were they actually publishing home

addresses, phone numbers, etc.? Were comments on the site suggesting violence or other

retaliation against particular people?

"

as most solicitors trade as an individual, by doing so, things like name and addresses along with telephone numbers as far as data protection goes is personal information. If they worked within a firm of solicitors, then the name and address of the offices of the firm would be public information and could be treated differently.

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Anonymous Coward

Can anyone really be surprised?

Solicitors close ranks when there are any complaints about their conduct. They're worse than the medical community.

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Bronze badge

Worse than the Medical Community?

Actually, the biggest problem the Medical Community has is Lawyers. It's the Management stuff-ups that cause the most deaths, but for day-by-day problems it's the inability to fire anyone that causes the most problems, (and contributes to situations where management close their eyes, put their hands over their ears, and go la-la-la-la-la-la when there are problems)

In my own country, Management routinely neglect to check basic references when hiring Doctors (see for example Jayant Mukundray Patel, sentenced to 7 years jail), but the routine inability to fire anyone for incompetence only makes the press if they can allege financial misdealings (see for example Professor Kossmann, only suspended after allegations that he 'rorted the Transport Accident Commission scheme' )

A more typical case (which will remain nameless) involves a Public Hospital which on appeal to the High court is unable to fire a doctor, even though it is accepted that he is not competant to do the work for which he was hired. The court held that a big hospital like that should be able to find other work for him...and there exists good precedents for that decision.

I'll make a big generalisation here: The medical community has zero tolerance for incompetent Senior Doctors, because incompetent Senior Doctors just mean more work for everyone else, for which they generally don't get paid more, or compensated at all. There is tolerance for weak Junior Doctors in training positions, but it is fanciful to think that anyone would close ranks to protect juniors.

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Anonymous Coward

re: Can anyone really be surprised

The Law Society, if they're anything like the BMA, are a union, whose first duty is to advocate the interests of their paying members.

Any 'regulation' the former does or doesn't do, doesn't prevent any wronged party suing the solicitor in question. Of course the fact law is in some ways for the rich might prevent it, but that's another matter.

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Zero sympathy

Maybe there was some libel there, maybe there wasn't. But I have zero sympathy for the owner given that he published personal data and demanded money to take it down, then tried to sell it to someone overseas,

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Anonymous Coward

"Personal data" is a slippery term

Reading the article, especially the quote from the judge, I get the impression that the "personal data" in question was not anything sensitive like addresses or phone numbers.

Rather, the lawyers claimed that the opinions published and stored on the website were personal data because they referred to solicitors who traded as individuals.

Describing opinions on someone's professional activities as "personal data" seems to be an extension of the DPA beyond its intended purpose.

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Indeed

I think you're right about what the interpretation was, but apparently it is covered by the DPA. I've skimmed the judgement and the two relevant bits are:

"The DPA s.1 provides that 'personal data' means "data which relate to a living individual who can be identified (a) from that data…""

and:

"The data processed by the Defendant about the Third Claimant is personal data, and sensitive personal data, as it included statements (which are false) about the alleged commission of offences by the Third Claimant."

Whilst it does seem a bit of a stretch at first read to call that personal data, if I was a legit solicitor (yes, I know, many will think that an oxymoron) getting unjustified anonymous grief, I'd consider it to be inaccurate personal data.

(Just to be clear: I'm not defending the legal profession, there are plenty of firms that seem nothing more than shysters to me, but this looks like someone who crossed a line when he started demanding money.)

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Joke

Surely the real story here is what were "Mr Justice Tugendhat"s parents thinking!? With a name like that he could only really be a lawyer, teacher, porn star or a character from South Park. Does he have children? Are there little Tugendhats? What are they called?

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Anonymous Coward

2 girls

Belle and Scarlet

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Bronze badge

clearly, sir, you are a student of architecture

See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tugendhat_House.

"Tugendhat" looks as if it ought to be a cognate of the German "Tugendheit", approximately "virtuousness".

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Anonymous Coward

@disgruntled yank

Who needs boring facts? Tugendhat (if given its wrong, but funnier pronunciation) sounds rude - therefore it's funny.

Clearly you need to get gruntled more often.

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Flame

Mr Justice Tugendhat said in his ruling.

"If a free market is to work, consumers must assume that suppliers are offering their goods or services in good faith, and not deliberately misleading the public."

Has the judge been under a rock for the last year while the banks imploded and the EU teetered on the brink of collapse, largely brought about by bad faith and misleading the public?

I hope he considered the corollary to his statement that for a free market to continue to function there needs to be a mechanism by which the market can be alerted to and adjust for those who would seek to undermine it. For example some sort of forum or list to alert the market to suppliers who fail to provide the service they advertise.

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Silver badge
WTF?

I'd expect: "If a free market is to work, consumers must be able to check that suppliers are offering their goods or services in good faith, and not deliberately misleading the public."

We've seen enough dishonest lawyers to know they're no better than any other trade. What's happened here is a disgrace though, the legal 'profession' taking advantage of an apparent idiots dishonesty to bend the law to give unjustified protections to their own cosy club. It's a blatant attempt to set precedent that will make it harder for the next honest whisteblower to fight his case.

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Anonymous Coward

did he defend himself?

Or could he find a lawyer prepared to act for him?

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I'd be willing to bet...

he could have got a solicitor if he wanted one. I seriously doubt they give any more of a fig about each other than they do the rest of us.

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Joke

"malicious and defamatory allegations about solicitors"

Presumably along the lines of

"Some of them are caring and honest people"

"They're not just in it for the money"

"The world couldn't function without them"

etc etc

(Obligatory "I'm joking, actually" disclaimer, for reasons that should be obvious to a blind man on a galloping horse)

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Anonymous Coward

Shocking behaviour

Didn't Rick Kordowski realise that the correct way to deal with allegations against the legal profession, is to pass them to the Law Society?

Such complaints can then be thoroughly investigated, whitewashed and ignored in the usual way.

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Anonymous Coward

Does this apply

To any other comparison sites - such as tripadvisor?

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Silver badge

Nope

...because those sites aren't saying bad things about the judge's buddies on (in?) the bar.

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FAIL

yet another legal decision without technical knowledge

Just how does the High Court expect to be able to make this stick?

Sites like "the wayback machine" at www.archive.org make the judgement pointless.

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Wayback record not very shocking

I went to web.archive.org and looked at its latest cache of www.solicitorsfromhell.co.uk - back in April. It was a site full of complaints from often anonymous posters, not directed at one particular solicitor. The submission form does not ask you for your identity, just to pay £1 for the complaint to go live.

Back in April it only had one posting on Hine Solicitors and none on McGrath, so I guess the libels complained about were posted later. The single posting about Hine Solicitors was clearly from someone who doesn't understand criminal procedure, rather than a documented complaint (like most of the complaints about conveyancing).

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Seriously?

I honestly understood content law to be applicable to the writer - in other words stuff submitted by users is the responsibility of the user rather than the webmaster. Which makes this all seem all the more ridiculous. Maybe I'm wrong.

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What a sad world we live in

When the truth cant be told about these con artist solicitors.

Why can't someone download all the information and publish it overseas out of reach of more bent solicitors.

Does anyone know an HONEST solicitor?

Thought not.

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You though wrong

I've known many honest and honourable solicitors, including the one who acted for my mother in my parents' divorce (and gave her a job ten years later), and the one who acted for me in a dispute with my landlord.

Many solicitors do actually believe strongly in the law and the rule of law, using it to help those who are in the shittiest of circumstances. This is why so many are vehemently opposed to the coming changes to Legal Aid (without which neither I nor my mum would have received representation), given it will strip assistance from some of the most disadvantaged in the UK.

Stipulated, many lawyers go into the profession with an eye on making money in any possible. The vast majority, however, do not.

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Somebody doesn't know about the wayback machine

The postings are there in all their glory. You can't get rid of data that's been on the internet for any length of time.

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Facepalm

The name Mr Justice Tugendhat is known to readers of Private Eye. I think I will forward a link to this article to the magazine.

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Anonymous Coward

What is not clear

A lot of people on this forum are implying that this is not fair because a judge is ruling in favour of some solicitors. What I am not clear from the article though is what the content of the site specifically was. If it was a bunch of consumer complaints or praise that were being aggregated and organised so people could find out about lawyers then I think the ruling was probably pretty harsh. If on the other hand this guy had a beef about some particular lawyers and put up a whole bunch of made up stuff on a website to try and get his own back, then the ruling sounds spot on. Given that the ruling specifically mentions a single law firm and a single lawyer it sounds to me like it might well be the latter.

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Anonymous Coward

"the ruling specifically mentions a single law firm and a single lawyer"

So does El Reg's article. With names.

Often if someone's reputation is being harmed by unfounded gossip, it takes a court injunction to keep the names OUT of the media. And a superinjunction means there's no way to confirm whether or not an injunction exists or not (well, except Twitter, obviously; yes Trafigura and Barclays, I'm thinking of you, but there are others).

In this case, the parties involved are presumably quite happy to see their name in lights.

Something odd in this picture.

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Silver badge

Maybe it's because I'm not British, but the very concept of a superinjunction makes my blood run cold. The fact that it can actually exist, with people just saying, "Maybe it could be bad but it might do some good and privacy's good right and freedom stops somewhere so eh...", is terrifying in the most pure, horrible way possible - the horrible-car-crash "this can't be happening to me" feeling.

This case in particular is a not-quite-so-egregious subset of that, which is kind of like saying that shooting someone in the head is a not-quite-so-egregious subset of delivering a fifteen megaton gift to the air over London.

Ugh. *shivers*

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Bronze badge

not surprised

Can hardly expect one legal bod to give the go ahead to someone for upsetting his best friends.

The thing about the Brits is they are too damned stupid, most go to solicitors when they really don't need to. My recent divorce cost me about 100 all in - everything - I did it myself, a couple of forms and that was that - my wife spent about 2k on legal advice that proved neither a hinderance to me or a help to her - she got nothing more than I'd already offered and didn't delay the matter a day.

I mistakenly used a solicitor for a house purchase, when the vendor had stripped the house of the fixtures and fittings he had promissed to leave, and the surveyor had failed to notice the structural problem in the house the solicitor informed me I 'could' go to court but was unlikely to get enough money back to pay his fees - in other words every penny I'd given him was a total and utter waste.

I've also had to take a company to court for unpaid bills - I did it myself, got my money out of them, it cost them in solicitor and barister fees more than twice what they owed me.

When we all stop using these people as if they were either useful or smart then we will stop having the problems.

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Bronze badge

I worked in a Solcitors firm for many years in IT and I will doubtlessly know WAY more than you do about conveyancing.

I would not do my own conveyancing. The legal industry has a very old non complimentary saying about *solicitors* doing their own conveyancing which includes the word "fool" and that's about a fully qualified, practising Solicitor doing the work for themselves.

If your solicitors screw up, then you have many methods of recourse including taking them to the Solicitors Regulation Authority. If they have made a mistake then they pay for it from their liability insurance.

Do you have liability insurance in case you mess up? No? Did you know conveyancing causes more insurance claims in the legal industry than any other sector in law? If you mess up and end up with a quarter million pound house you can't sell then it's literally your loss. For just £200 you can get a cheap solicitor doing the job and if they mess it up through a fault on your part then they have to compensate you for it, in full.

If your sensible you know when it is worth taking legal advise, and when it's not. There are cases where it's not, but many where it is very worthwhile. Going back to conveyancing; you'd do far better to advertise your property yourself (and save 1-3% of the purchase price from the estate agents fees) than to save £200 on conveyancing fees for example.

Taking someone to court much of the time is possible and sensible to do yourself, especially if you use the small claims court which won't actually hear a solicitor. You can always save money simply by simply cutting out the middleman and going strait to a barrister yourself. Solicitors rarely actually attend court themselves; they just hire a barrister from the chambers local to the court they are planning to use. You can do that yourself.

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Sam Clemens again

"Anyone who represents themself in court has a fool for a client."

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Anonymous Coward

The Real Error

I won't postulate an opinion about the subject matter or judgement, however the one mistake that the defendant definitely did make was to pick on the soliciting profession. My view is that no matter how dysfunctional a solicitor might be, they stick together tighter than a hoar's bomb doors which have been smeared with fast acting araldite.

I won't ever place trust in a solicitor again due to my own dreadful experience. There may well be some non-dodgy solicitors out there, but I'm afraid the dodgy brigade lost their future opportunities with me.

And if you need any proof of how dodgy solicitors are, remember Tony Blair justifying the Iraq war on the back of us being within 45 minutes of weapons of mass destruction. Bliar was a solicitor before he found another career with even more rich pickings.

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Anonymous Coward

M'Lud

He was a Barista...

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Not only that, he had a deal with his missus, that whoever was elected to Parliament first, the other would carry on with the law to bring the money in. Remember, Cherie Booth was selected as a PPC for the (old) Labour Party before her husband. He just won his election before she did.

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Black Helicopters

Would that be the same Cherie Booth who founded a chambers specialising in Human Rights cases, just as her husband rammed through a raft of labyrinthine and loophole-ridden legislation lacking defined scope, ensuring a healthy supply of long and highly profitable legal arguments on the subject in perpetuity?

Conflict of interest? Surely not.......

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Mushroom

Paralegal Lost

Him Mr Justice hurled headlong down to flaming restraint and adamantine injunction...

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Unhappy

I was waiting for something like this... There have been a lot of clear, understandable, sensible decisions lately.

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