File-sharing solicitors hit by SDT fine and suspension plan appeal

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2 August 2011

File-sharing: firm says it acted in clients' best interests

Two solicitors sanctioned today by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) for sending intimidating letters to individuals they accused of illegal file-sharing are set to appeal.

David Gore, a current partner, and Brian Miller, a former partner, at London firm Davenport Lyons, were fined £20,000 each and suspended from practising for three months after all six allegations against them were proven.

They were also ordered to pay interim costs to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) of £150,000. Full costs are subject to a detailed assessment.

The order has been suspended for 21 days to allow time for an appeal and a statement from Davenport Lyons said it “wholeheartedly” supported the solicitors’ intention to appeal both the decision and the penalty.

The breaches related to conduct between 2006 and 2009, when, acting on behalf of various clients, over 6,000 letters were sent to individuals claimed to have been involved in unlawful file sharing in breach of the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1998.

The letters demanded compensation and costs and warned that recipients faced further action and increased costs if the matter was not settled as a matter of urgency.

The SRA said its investigation found that the concerns of those who had received letters and protested their innocence were disregarded. In a statement today, it said the SDT “found, in effect, that Mr Miller and Mr Gore became too concerned about making the scheme profitable for themselves and their firm. Their judgment became distorted and they pursued the scheme regardless of the impact on the people receiving the letters and even of their own clients”.

The six charges were that the solicitors:

  • allowed their independence to be compromised;
  • did not act in the best interests of their clients;
  • acted in a way that was likely to diminish the trust the public place in them or in the legal profession;
  • entered into arrangements to receive contingency fees for work done in prosecuting or defending contentious proceedings;
  • acted where there was a conflict of interest because there was a conflict or significant risk that their and/or their firm’s interests were in conflict with those of their clients; and
  • “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”.

An SRA spokesperson said: “We welcome the decision of the SDT, which follows a lengthy and complex investigation by members of 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.

“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.”

The Davenport Lyons statement said it considered the decision and sanctions to be “totally unjustified”.

It continued: “Davenport Lyons is a leading law firm with highly specialist intellectual property lawyers. We were instructed by the owners of intellectual property rights in music, film and games to help them curtail the significant losses they were suffering as a result of the unlawful file-sharing of their products.

“The steps we took on behalf of our clients were for the protection of their legitimate legal rights. We consider that we acted in our clients’ best interests at all times.”

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