A barrister has been reprimanded and fined for misleading Google in trying to get a negative review taken down.
Philip Hamer admitted his misconduct but said he had been subjected to “distressing online trolling”.
Mr Harmer is a non-practising barrister who runs unregulated firm Stormcatcher Legal Services; he also owns LawPlan, which launched four years ago to offer subscription legal services to small businesses.
According to a Bar disciplinary tribunal, Mr Harmer made a misleading statement to Google on a review deletion request form, on which he attempted to have a Google review about him removed.
He told the search giant that he had had no communication with the reviewer when in fact they had been in contact by letter and telephone relating to a third person’s dispute with one of his clients, in which they had complained about his behaviour.
Mr Harmer was also found to have conducted a reserved legal activity (litigation) when he was not entitled to do so: he allowed his name and address to provided as the address for service for a claimant on a claim form issued in the county court; and filed and served a witness statement and evidence on behalf of the claimant.
The full background of, and reasons for, the decision will be published in the coming weeks.
In a statement, Mr Harmer said: “In 2018, I was subjected to distressing online trolling by my client’s litigation adversary. I asked Google to remove this calumnious material, but in doing so, I sent an inaccurate email to Google.
“It was inaccurate to say that I had not had past communications with the troll. For this inaccuracy on my part, I was reprimanded by the tribunal and fined £1,000. The tribunal accepted counsel’s plea in mitigation that I acted when provoked.
“I also admitted that I put my name on a claim form as a forwarding address and sent a single email to a court attaching a witness statement. These two acts in 2018, some five months apart, were regarded as the ‘conduct of litigation’. These were treated as technical infringements of the BSB code and I was reprimanded.
“The BSB accepted that I had not committed any criminal offence under the Legal Services Act 2007. An allegation of dishonesty towards Google was dismissed.”
Mr Harmer – who was represented by Marc Beaumont – added that he was now carrying on with “my popular and successful motor law consultancy”, which advising in consumer and commercial disputes concerning the motor trade.