A lawyer who ‘repeatedly wished death’ on third parties who had sent him death threats on Twitter went so far beyond the actions expected of a solicitor that ‘regulatory action was inevitable’, a tribunal heard today.
Mark Lewis, who represented phone-hacking victims in their claims against the News of the World, is alleged by the SRA to have posted ‘offensive and profane’ messages through Facebook and Twitter to third parties.
A packed Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal, in the second day of an expected three-day hearing, listened as the SRA outlined its case and Lewis was cross-examined.
Halfway through proceedings the tribunal chair changed the hearing room in order to accommodate the large number of people watching the case unfold.
Representing the SRA, counsel Rupert Allen said Lewis’s claims that he was responding to people as a ‘shock tactic’ should be rejected as the conduct lasted over a long period of time. Allen was referring to messages that Lewis sent on Twitter responding to third parties.
Representing Lewis, Timothy Kendal said the lawyer had been subjected to a three-year bombardment on Twitter consisting of ‘thousands’ of disgusting and abusive messages and that he had been forced to live with enhanced security as a result. Lewis responded to a tiny proportion of the messages he received, he added.
Allen said a solicitor who specialised in social media law, as Lewis does, should have been aware of how to behave on that platform. Earlier the SRA also claimed that potential side-effects of medical treatment were not a sufficient defence as to why Lewis posted a separate offensive message on Facebook.
Allen said Lewis, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, had submitted in his statement that he was on a course of medication at the time which put him in a ‘dream-like state’ and that he could not remember posting the messages.
The messages in question, which were not read out, were sent to the son of an acquaintance of Lewis in May last year. Allen said it would have been difficult for Lewis to compose the ‘elaborate, personalised message’ had he been in a dream-like state. Allen also referred to a letter from the doctor who prescribed the medication, who described potential side effects including ‘possible irrational behaviour’. These ‘generic side effects’ fell short of providing a defence, Allen said.
Yesterday Lewis applied to the SDT to have part of the proceedings stayed as an abuse of process. That application referred to the allegation relating to use of his Twitter account from July 2015 to December 2016. The tribunal rejected the application, meaning both allegations proceeded today. On cross-examination Lewis, who is Jewish, said he had been bombarded with threats and abuse from ‘neo-Nazis who wanted to kill me’. He said he reported the abuse to both the police and twitter.
However, he added that even though he is a solicitor, it was important for him to be able to respond robustly and show that he was not afraid.
He is now, he said, ‘running away’ from abuse because he had been told by the regulator to ignore his abusers - who continue to send him abuse. On the Facebook message he submitted that he had ‘no idea’ what he was doing due to the side effects of the drug - an anaesthetic. He added that he made repeated attempts to apologise to the boy and his father after realising what he had done.