A former and existing partner from law firm Davenport Lyons were fined £20,000 each for sending intimidating letters to consumers they had accused of illegal file sharing.
At a hearing before the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) yesterday, equity partner David Gore and former intellectual property partner Brian Miller were also suspended from practising law for three months.
Both men have been ordered to pay interim costs of £150,000 to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) to cover some its costs for bringing the case to prosecution.
Between 2006 and 2009 David Gore and Brian Miller – on behalf of various clients including Atari and Topware Interactive – sent over 6,000 letters to consumers accusing them of allegedly sharing files illegally.
The letters demanded the recipients pay approximately £500 in compensation or face the threat of legal proceedings.
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What Which? said
In December 2008, Which? lodged a complaint with the SRA, arguing that the conduct of the two had been ‘bullying’ and ‘excessive’.
Which? also said the letters sent by the two made incorrect assertions about the nature of copyright infringement; ignored the evidence presented in defence; and increased the level of compensation claimed over the period of correspondence.
In addition, the letters stated incorrectly that failing to properly secure an internet connection was grounds for legal action, Which? said.
In March last year, after investigating the matter, the SRA ruled there was a case to answer and referred the two to the SDT. The seven-day hearing was held in May and June this year.
What the SDT found
Both men were found guilty of six allegations of breaching the Solicitors Code of Conduct. The allegations included allowing their independence to be compromised, not acting in the best interests of their clients and bringing the legal profession into disrepute.
The SDT also found that Gore and Miller became ‘too concerned about making the scheme profitable for themselves and their firm. Their judgement become distorted and they pursued the scheme regardless of the impact on the people receiving the letters and even of their own clients’.
Commenting on yesterday’s decision, an SRA spokesperson said: ‘We welcome the decision of the SDT, which follows a lengthy and complex investigation by members of the SRA staff.
‘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.
He added: ‘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’.
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