A litigant has vowed to complain to the Solicitors Regulation Authority about a law firm that checked her personal emails to support a case against her.
Sarah Lynette Webb was involved in a dispute with her former employer, an unnamed firm of solicitors, where she was an equity partner.
According to a statement read in open court yesterday, London firm Lewis Silkin, acting in the arbitration for her ex-employer, had informed Webb that it intended to access her email account from her time as a partner as it contained potentially relevant information.
Webb objected on the grounds that emails contained legally privileged and sensitive personal and confidential information: when she later discovered searches of her account were made by Lewis Silkin staff, she started proceedings for misuse of private information and breach of confidence.
Lewis Silkin denied that the review of Webb’s emails was improper or unlawful, and also asserted any breach of the claimant’s rights was trivial.
During the course of proceedings, following disclosure, Webb found Lewis Silkin had accessed hundreds of personal emails, including communication with her husband and with legal advisers.
Lewis Silkin made no admission of liability but settled Webb’s claim for £17,000 plus legal costs on the standard basis.
A spokesman for the firm said: ‘So far as Lewis Silkin was concerned the claim was settled for purely commercial reasons because Lewis Silkin perceived that the costs of the claim were wholly disproportionate.
‘Ms Webb applied to make a statement in open court. In determining that application, the judge indicated that the purpose of a statement in open court is for the claimant to indicate her perception of what happened but noted that this was significantly at odds with Lewis Silkin’s perception.
‘In his judgment the judge recorded the competing contentions of the parties. He made no finding that the review of Ms Webb’s emails was either improper or unlawful.’
A press statement released on Webb's behalf by London firm Carter-Ruck asserted that Webb’s costs were budgeted by the court at more than £500,000.
Webb said: ‘I am very pleased that I am now able to publicly set out my position. Lewis Silkin LLP fought this case at every stage, including trying to prohibit me bringing the claim at all in the courts, before they finally settled.'
She said that the most troubling aspect of the case was the discovery that Lewis Silkin 'repeatedly made erroneous statements about the searches they had performed on my email account'.
She added that: ‘In the light of this I am now going to make a complaint to the SRA about the conduct of Lewis Silkin.’