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Solicitors from hell website unplugged by libel judge

Review site sued into oblivion for 'naming and shaming' briefs

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The Law Society had written to Kordowski asking him to delete the personal data of lawyers mentioned on the site but Kordowski said he would only delete the information if he received a fee to do so. When Kordowski indicated his intention to transfer ownership of the data contained on the site to foreign owners the Law Society obtained an injunction temporarily banning the transfer. The Law Society claimed that transferring ownership of lawyers' personal data contained on the site would amount to unlawful data processing and harassment.

Under the DPA individuals have a right, under certain conditions, to require organisations that store their personal data to "cease, or not to begin" processing of that information if it "is causing or is likely to cause substantial damage or substantial distress to him or to another, and that damage or distress is or would be unwarranted".

Mr Justice Tugendhat ruled that the requests made in its letter to Kordowski were justified because Kordowski had not processed personal data of lawyers listed on the site fairly and lawfully. The judge therefore ordered Kordowski to stop processing that personal data. He also extended the temporary ban on Kordowski transferring ownership of the data to permanent. Under the DPA "If a court is satisfied, on the application of any person who has given a notice [that they want damaging and distressing personal data processing to stop] which appears to the court to be justified (or to be justified to any extent), that the data controller in question has failed to comply with the notice, the court may order him to take such steps for complying with the notice (or for complying with it to that extent) as the court thinks fit".

The Law Society had argued that solicitorsfromhell.co.uk contained "malicious and defamatory allegations about solicitors" which "causes serious damage to the reputations of the solicitors, firms and others who are listed on it, causing them financial loss, embarrassment, anxiety and distress". It said Kordowski was "harassing those listed" on the site and doing the public a "disservice" by "encouraging them to use inaccurate information to choose a solicitor".

Under the Protection from Harassment Act a person is generally deemed to have committed an offence if, on more than one occasion, they "pursue a course of conduct which amounts to harassment of another, and which he knows or ought to know amounts to harassment" of someone else.. Under the provisions of the Act a person is deemed to "ought to know" that their conduct "amounts to harassment of another if a reasonable person in possession of the same information would think the course of conduct amounted to harassment".

Those who are in breach of the Act can be jailed or fined. The High Court can issue an injunction "for the purpose of restraining [an individual] from pursuing any conduct which amounts to harassment" and if the person who requested the injunction believes that the individual "has done anything which he is prohibited from doing by the injunction", they can "apply for the issue of a warrant for the[ir] arrest".

Mr Justice Tugendhat ruled that because solicitorsfromhell.co.uk was a "prominent website" and contained "ongoing" publication of the comments made about solicitors that it would be "reasonable to infer in every case that those [lawyers] posted [about] would suffer such distress and alarm on at least two occasions". The judge has prohibited Kordowski from harassing the lawyers listed or at risk of being listed on solicitorsfromhell.co.uk in the future.

Copyright © 2011, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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