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Appeal lodged against High Court’s takedown of Solicitors from Hell, ICO tells Law Society CEO Des Hudson ‘to live with consumer criticism of lawyers’

05 Jan

solicitors-from-hellAppeal lodged against High Court’s decision to remove Solicitors from Hell website from internet. SOLICITORS FROM HELL (SfH) is back in the news for 2012 after its owner, Rick Kordowski revealed he has filed an appeal against the recent High Court decision by Hon. Mr Justice Michael Tugendhat in the case of The Law Society, Hine Solicitors & Kevin McGrath & a cast of others v Rick Kordowski to grant the Law Society of England & Wales its injunction for the removal of the now well known Solicitors from Hell website which allowed clients & consumers to rate their solicitors & post reviews of their experiences with law firms & lawyers from across the UK.

Diary of Injustice reported on the legal action taken by the Law Society of England & Wales against Mr Kordowski and his website:  ‘SolicitorsFromHELL.co.uk’ in November 2011, here : Solicitors From Hell removed from internet as UK High Court grants injunction to Law Society of England & Wales to censor client reviews of lawyers

The injunction, secured by Hugh Tomlinson QC and Sara Mansoori of Matrix Chambers as announced on Brett Wilson LLP’s blog, followed a successful application for judgment in default against Mr Rick Kordowski, the owner of the SfH website. The full judgement in the case can be read here : The Law Society, Hine Solicitors & Kevin McGrath v Rick Kordowski

Speaking late last week, Mr Kordowski said : “I was tempted to leave it and let it go down in  history as one of the most ‘archaic’ judgments of all time. However, now that the Law Society of England and Wales  have been served with the necessary paperwork, this judgment and order is in  the process of being formally appealed.”

Mr Kordowski said : “The individuals who accompanied the Law Society  on the claim against me failed to follow the Pre-Action protocol code. I am also perplexed to why these individuals had not (and still haven’t)  contact me to ask who the authors of the words complained about were.”

Mr Kordowski has also indicated he will take the case all the way to the European Court if he loses the latest appeal in the UK Courts. Mr Kordowski said that in the event of his appeal being  turned down by the higher appeal court here in the UK, with the help of legal advice provided by the mainstream media, he will take this  case to the European Court in Strasbourg where he feels he will receive a fairer hearing and a more ‘balanced’ approach to the matter.

Lawyers & their grudges ? Law Society Chief Executive Desmond Hudson Des Hudson the £400K-A-YEAR Chief Executive of the Law Society of England & Wales who pursued the SfH website through the courts at huge cost to members, commented in a Press Release at the time of the High Court’s decision : “This website has served simply as a vehicle for pursuing personal grudges and vendettas against conscientious and reputable firms and legal professionals. Far from being of any help to consumers, it has been a danger. Some excellent firms have been listed on the website, and exclusion from the site has more often than not been a matter of whether a firm has been prepared to pay a fee to have the listing removed. I feared the website was directing people in real need of help away from professionals best placed to assist them.”

However, it has come to light Mr Hudson and the Law Society received little joy from their attempts to involve the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) in their battle to remove the Solicitors from Hell website from the internet, raising further questions over the High Court’s decision to side with the vested interests of the legal profession out to block their own client’s right of free speech to rate and review the service provided by UK based lawyers & law firms.

Diary of Injustice has been passed a copy of a letter from the Information Commissioner Christopher Graham to Desmond Hudson, CEO of the Law Society. The Information Commissioner’s office confirmed the letter as genuine and said they had no objection to it being published in full. The letter can be downloaded HERE

Law Society is told to live with criticism and ‘censoring online comments against lawyers is not a job for the Information Commissioner’ In the letter, Christopher Graham, the  Information Commissioner said to the Law Society’s Chief Executive, Mr Hudson : “We have looked at the website and agree that some of the content that individuals have posted about solicitors is highly offensive, although some of it does strike me as representing, on the face of it, credible accounts of the experiences that some individuals may have had of their solicitors.The inclusion of the ‘domestic purposes exemption in the Data Protection Act (s.36) is intended to balance the individual’s right to respect for his/her private life with the right to freedom of expression. These rights are equally important and I am strongly of the view that this is not the purpose of the DPA to regulate an individual’s right to freedom of expression – even where the individual uses a third party website, rather than his own facilities, to exercise this.”

“The situation would clearly be impossible where the Information Commissioner to be expected to rule on what it is acceptable for one individual to say about another, be that a solicitor or another individual. This is not what my Office is established to do. This is particularly the case where other legal remedies are available – for example, the law of libel or incitement.”

“There is still a considerable lack of certainty concerning the extent to which website operators are legally responsible for the content they host, Although solicitorsfromhell/Mr Kordowski may well be a data controller, and is indeed registered as such, the instigators of the website;’s content are generally private individuals expressing their own views. Their activity attracts the s.36 exemption, which emanates ultimately from Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.”

“In giving due weight to freedom of expression in cases like this we have to accept that enforcing the data protection principles in respect of the activities of the website owner is likely to entail a disproportionate level of interference with the rights of the contributors, however unpleasant their contributions may be.”

“We also have to accept that contributing to, and using, ratings and customer feedback sites – of variable quality – has become an established part of consumers’ online behaviour.”

Others also question the High Court’s decision to side with the Law Society and grant the removal of the Solicitors from Hell website from public view after it became known the Legal Ombudsman (LeO) is also to embark on a similar strategy of naming & shaming solicitors & law firms who fail their clients, a fact reported by Diary of Injustice in early November 2011, here : Scots to be ‘kept in dark’ on details of crooked lawyers while Legal Ombudsman’s ‘naming & shaming’ policy ‘will protect’ consumers in England & Wales.

So, the battle is on to restore Solicitors from Hell to the internet, and thus restore the right of consumers across the country to freely comment on and rate the services of their legal representatives, just like all other consumers purchasing products & services across the land.

In the meantime new websites have emerged to allow clients to post their opinions about lawyers :

Cowboy SolicitorsCOWBOYSOLICITORS.COM, a new website to allow consumers to rate their lawyer online. While the battle for Solicitors From Hell looks set to continue all the way to the European Courts, a host of new websites offering consumers the chance to air their views of how they were served by their legal representatives have emerged, the latest one being COWBOYSOLICITORS.COM. The new website, which is free to become a member of, states Solicitors have ruled the roost for far too long, the law society is completely bias against any complaints. The truth is that many UK legal practices are filth ridden and need exposing. Become a free member and start shaming your solicitor within minutes. Manage all listings from your personalized dashboard.

SFH2Solicitors from Hell 2 has returned to replace the original Solicitors from Hell website. The new Solicitors from Hell 2 website which is registered in the USA, and is thus outwith the reach of UK Libel laws, replaces the now censored Solicitors from Hell. As before, clients can rate their solicitors and document their experiences whether good or bad although this time, it may be more difficult for the Law Society to act. The new website states : Solicitors From Hell 2 will allow people to upload articles about Solicitors from within the UK or anywhere else in the world this will be done automatically & free of charge. Should a complaint arise we will require evidence to substantiate your complaint. or the removal of the offending post or words will take place. This will be at the sole discretion of Solicitors From Hell 2 editors. Further should anyone claim that any item is defamatory and can prove the information wrong then the post will be removed free of charge.

So those of you looking for an opportunity to name & shame your poorly performing or even crooked lawyer, there is now even more choice to do so, courtesy of the Law Society’s attack on UK consumers right of free speech.

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