Two solicitors accused over file-sharing ‘bully tactics’

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The Solicitors Regulation Authority has referred two solicitors from London firm Davenport Lyons to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal over claims that the firm sent ‘bullying’ letters accusing hundreds of people of illegal file-sharing.

Consumer group Which? complained to the SRA in 2008 that Davenport Lyons partner David Gore and former partner Brian Miller had engaged in ‘bullying’ and ‘excessive’ conduct, while acting on behalf of client copyright holders.

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It said the firm had sent out hundreds of letters, demanding compensation and costs for copyright infringements, and threatening court action.

Deborah Prince, head of legal affairs at Which?, said: ‘We’re pleased to see some action at last from the SRA and hope the tide is finally turning in favour of consumers. We want to see some decisive action to stop these bully-boy tactics.

‘Had the SRA decided not to pursue our complaint, its decision would have been very serious for the regulation of the legal profession,’ she added.

Mark Stephens, a partner at Stephens Finers Innocent who is representing the two solicitors involved, rejected the consumer group’s allegations. He said Davenport Lyons has a long tradition of protecting the rights of creators, and its methodology for handling illegal file-sharing cases conforms to industry best practice, and has been adopted in the Digital Economy Bill currently going through parliament.

Stephens said it was not correct to say the solicitors’ conduct was inappropriate in the manner alleged by Which?, adding that Davenport Lyons has a 100% success rate for the illegal file-sharing cases that it has taken to court.

Stephens accepted that there was a ‘small concern’ regarding the information provided by the internet service provider, which Davenport Lyons had relied on. In a few cases, he said the ISP had wrongly identified the people involved. But once the error was discovered, the cases against them were not pursued.

There were also a number of people who had left their computers in an insecure state and third parties had gained control over them. Again, said Stephens, these people were subsequently not pursued.

The SDT will now examine the complaint to determine whether there is a case to answer. If it finds that there is, the tribunal will hear the case later in the year.

Davenport Lyons declined to comment.

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