A solicitor who claimed her reputation had been destroyed in a Facebook post has lost a High Court libel action, in the latest judgment hingeing on the 'serious harm' test introduced by the 2013 Defamation Act. Dr Katherine Alexander-Theodotou, of London firm Highgate Hill Solicitors, claimed more than £900,000 over a webinar and Facebook post containing allegations about the handling of litigation arising from the alleged mis-selling of off-plan property in Cyprus.
Defendant Georgios Kounis, a former law firm consultant who acted for British claimants in the litigation, has become a campaigner on the issue. The claim alleged that he had ‘conspired’ with former clients to harm Alexander-Theodotou's reputation and encourage complaints to the Solicitors Regulation Authority and Legal Ombudsman.
Kounis described the defamation claim as ‘irrelevant and vexatious’ and applied to the court to have it struck out.
In Alexander-Theodotou & Ors v Kounis, The Honourable Mr Justice Warby, presiding judge of the Media and Communications List, struck out the claim in relation to the webinar and dismissed the claim relating to the Facebook post, finding no material harm was done to the claimant’s reputation.
The Facebook post, reproduced in the judgment, asserted that a British man killed himself after losing money through the property investment. It stated that lawyers had been allowed to ‘feed on the plight’ of victims and that a ‘London legal firm’ took almost £30,000 in fees before breaching the terms of its retainer.
In the High Court, Alexander-Theodotou argued that her reputation had been seriously harmed and her businesses were likely to suffer serious financial loss as a result of the post. Her lawyers said she had suffered ‘considerable hurt, distress and embarrassment which is continuing’ and that Kounis had damaged her health and trust of clients through his six-year campaign.
Kounis denied being responsible for the webinar but did not dispute responsibility for the Facebook post. He asked the claimant to prove that this post referred to her, denied it was defamatory and disputed the meanings attached to it. His lawyer said the claimant’s statement was ‘accusatory, tendentious and emotional’, imputing all manner of wrongdoing in a ‘scattergun manner’.
Warby J ruled that it was not established that the publication complained of had caused serious harm. He saw no sound basis for a reasonable reader linking Alexander-Theodotou to the deceased man, and the few who did know her role were either dissatisfied ex-clients or others who had already made complaints. In this respect, no material harm was done.
Anthony Metzer QC and Anton Van Dellen, instructed by Highgate Hill Solicitors, appeared for the claimants; Jonathan Price, instructed under the bar public access scheme, for the defendant.