Lawscot.co.uk domain dispute continues

Owner sacks legal advisers

The controversy over lawscot.co.uk shows no signs of ending soon, with owner Tommy Butler sacking his legal advisers.

Mr Butler is in a court battle with the Law Society of Scotland over the domain, which says Mr Butler is infringing its "lawscot" trademark and so has to hand it over.

Mr Butler argues that he registered the domain long before the Law Society applied for the trademark and that efforts from the Law Society to buy the domain off him strengthen his case.

The controversy however stems from the fact that Mr Butler has been refused permission to have the case heard in an English court. He says he is unable to get a fair trial in Scotland since his solicitors would, under law, have to be a member of the Law Society - the very people he is in dispute with.

This apparent conflict of interests is strongly denied by the Law Society, which said in a statement: "Scottish solicitors work to extremely high standards under strict rules regarding conflict of interest. Solicitors are free to act for clients challenging decisions of the Law Society of Scotland and a number of solicitors have done so. As membership of the Society is compulsory under the Solicitors (Scotland) Act, solicitors cannot opt out of membership to act for such clients and there is no conflict of interest acting for them."

Nevertheless, Mr Butler told us that the failure of his lawyers - Macbeth Currie - to get the restriction lifted and to contact people who he says would support his case, left him with no choice but to sack them.

He also points to a letter received by Macbeth Currie from the Law Society's lawyers requesting that they did not discuss the case in public, as more evidence that the trial should be held outside of Scotland. His request for another Scottish law firm to take up his case has so far been met with silence.

Mr Butler's claim for legal aid is currently under review by a panel of laymen after the Law Society objected.

In terms of the case itself, the Law Society is by no means assured of winning. "Lawscot" itself is a generic name and so the Law Society does not have an automatic entitlement.

The Law Society did not go through the accepted domain name arbitration service run by Nominet - in which it would almost certainly have failed - but instead served papers against Mr Butler and Nominet for the domain, claiming Mr Butler was guilty of "passing off" i.e. misusing the Law Society's goodwill or reputation by misrepresenting himself as related to the Law Society.

This claim may have been undermined by the Law Society's own actions however when it wrongly advertised Mr Butler lawscot.co.uk domain as its own and also published Mr Butler's email address as a contact address for itself.

The Law Society refutes any wrongdoing. While it said it was unable to talk about the case's specifics for fear of prejudicing the case, it did provide us with the following statement:

"Discussions have been on-going with Mr Butler for a considerable period of time.

"The Society considered arbitration but decided to proceed to court for an interim order to protect the interests of the profession and of the public in this matter as quickly as possible.

"The Society was concerned to discover that emails intended for lawscot.org.uk were not being received by the Society but were being sent to lawscot.co.uk in error. Obviously this concerned the Society as it had no control over lawscot.co.uk or what was being sent to that site.

"Details of the action the Society took could form part of the case, so cannot be disclosed at present as any comments may prejudice the case."

MacBeth Currie declined to discuss any matters dealing with the case or its relationship with Mr Butler. ®

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