Solicitors fined £20,000 for sending intimidating letters
Two London solicitors have been fined and suspended for three months by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal for sending intimidating letters accusing people of illegal filesharing.
David Gore, a current partner at Davenport Lyons, and Brian Miller, a former partner at the same firm, were found guilty of six breaches of the Code of Conduct by the SDT in June.
At a hearing yesterday, both were fined £20,000, suspended from practicing for three months, and ordered to pay interim costs to the SRA of £150,000 in total, pending a detailed assessment.
The order has been suspended for 21 days to allow time for an appeal.
The breaches included allowing their independence to be compromised, not acting in the best interests of their clients, and acting in a away that was likely to diminish the trust the public placed in them or in the legal profession.
They related to conduct between 2006 and 2009 when, acting on behalf of various clients, they sent more than 6,000 letters to individuals accusing them of involvement in unlawful file sharing in breach of the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1998.
The letters demanded compensation and costs to prevent the possibility of court action.
The SRA’s investigation followed a complaint from consumer group Which? that the pair had engaged in ‘bullying’ and ‘excessive’ conduct while acting on behalf of the copyright holders.
The SDT found that Miller and Gore became too concerned about making the scheme profitable for themselves and their firm, and their judgment became distorted, so that they pursued the scheme regardless of the impact on the people receiving the letters, and their own clients.
It said they had ‘used their position as solicitors to take or attempt to take unfair advantage of other persons, being recipients of letters of claim, either for their own or for the benefit of their clients’.
An SRA spokesman welcomed the SDT’s decision, which he said had followed a lengthy and complex investigation by members of SRA staff.
He said: ‘Some of those affected were vulnerable members of the public. There was significant distress. We are pleased that this matter has been brought to a conclusion and hope that it serves as a warning to others.’
‘Solicitors have a duty to act with integrity, independence and in the best interests of their clients. Solicitors who breach those duties can expect to face action by the SRA,’ he said.
A spokeswoman for Davenport Lyons said: ‘We consider the decision of the Solicitors’ Disciplinary Tribunal and sanctions imposed against David Gore and former partner, Brian Miller, are totally unjustified.
‘Davenport Lyons is a leading law firm with highly specialist intellectual property lawyers. We were instructed by the owners of intellectual property rights in music, film and games to help them curtail the significant losses they were suffering as a result of the unlawful file-sharing of their products. The steps we took on behalf of our clients were for the protection of their legitimate legal rights. We consider that we acted in our clients’ best interests at all times.
‘We wholeheartedly support David and Brian’s intention to appeal both the Solicitors’ Disciplinary Tribunal’s original decision and the resulting suspension and fine.’