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‘File sharing’ solicitors guilty of professional misconduct

Two to be sanctioned at a later date

The scales of justice held up

A former and existing partner with law firm Davenport Lyons have been found guilty of professional misconduct.

Last night, the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) found equity partner David Gore and former intellectual property partner Brian Miller guilty of six breaches to the Solicitors Code of Conduct.

These included acting in a way that was ‘likely to diminish the trust the public place in them or in the legal profession’.

And that they ‘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 benefit or for the benefit of their clients’. They were also found guilty of not acting in the best interests of their clients.

If you’d like to know more about file sharing, take a look at our Which? guide – find out what file sharing is and the types of files you can share legally.

Letters to users

Between 2006 and 2009 David Gore and Brian Miller were responsible for sending out thousands of letters to internet users accusing them of allegedly illegally downloading and distributing copyright-protected material over the internet via peer-to-peer networks.

The letters then asked the recipients to pay approximately £500 in compensation in order to avoid legal proceedings.

The case was brought before the SDT by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) following a complaint about the letters by Which? who said they were ‘bullying’.

Which? also claimed the letters 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.

The letters also stated, incorrectly, that failing to properly secure an internet connection was grounds for legal action.

In March last year, after investigating the matter, the SRA ruled there was a case to answer and referred the two to the SDT.

Which? says

Mark McLaren, Which? principal advocate said: ‘We’re delighted that the SDT has found all the SRA’s allegations proved, following our complaint which we made to the SRA in December 2008.

‘We hope this judgement will send a strong message to the legal profession about the way consumers should be treated.’

An SRA spokesperson added: ‘The SRA welcomes the decision of the SDT in this case brought for the protection of consumers.’

He said it would not comment further until the SDT has made its decisions on sanction and costs.’

The SRA has applied for the costs of bringing the complaint before the Tribunal to be borne by the solicitors personally,  Messrs Gore and Miller.

Which? Computing understands that despite the verdict, the two are unlikely to be struck off the Solicitors Roll. Instead, they face a reprimand, a monetary fine, or suspension from practising.

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