Client to Pay Firm £25,000 in Damages for Negative Review
A wave of online criticism has been set off after a man who called a firm “another scam solicitor” was ordered to pay libel damages.
A man who left a negative review of law firm Summerfield Browne Solicitors on the Trustpilot website has been ordered to pay £25,000 in libel damages.
Philip James Waymouth hired the firm for advice in a dispute over the enforcement of a court order for a £200 fixed fee.
He then left a review on Summerfield Browne’s Trustpilot page, accusing the firm of being “another scam solicitor” and a “total waste of money”.
The firm launched brought a claim against Waymouth at the High Court in London, arguing that Waymouth’s statements were untrue and defamatory, and that its number of business enquiries had dropped since the review’s publication.
Judge Master David Cook, ruling in favour of Summerfield Browne, stated that the words used in the review “had a clear tendency to put people off dealing with the claimant firm” and that Waymouth had “never fully articulated” why he was unhappy with Summerfield Browne’s work.
Waymouth did not attend the online hearing or send a legal representative.
Following attention from news outlets, Summerfield Browne’s Trustpilot review page has been bombarded with one-star reviews . Numerous reviewers also alleged that the firm’s website tracks user sessions using Google Analytics without asking permission, a violation of GDPR.
Trustpilot first placed a notice on the Summerfield Browne page urging only genuine clients to leave a review, before disabling reviews altogether.
“Although we understand you want to voice your opinion about things in the news and issues trending on social media, Trustpilot is a place for feedback based on genuine buying and service experiences,” Trustpilot said.
In a subsequent statement, the review site voiced opposition to the High Court’s judgement, noting that it had not been given the opportunity to make any representation in the case and that Waymouth’s review had not been flagged through its complaints process.
“We believe there are a number of errors within the judgement, and it raises significant concerns around freedom of speech,” Trustpilot said. “Whilst the circumstances of this case are highly unusual, the outcome will ultimately not lead to a positive position for anyone – consumers or businesses – and it is much better for businesses to engage, respond and improve upon the feedback they receive, rather than using legal action to silence consumers.”
Trustpilot also announced its intention to challenge any order it might receive to remove Waymouth’s review.
Summerfield Browne Solicitors is a commercial and private law firm with offices in London, Birmingham, Cambridge, Leicester and Oxford.