Law firm sues Trustpilot for defamation over 20 negative reviews


A debt recovery law firm is suing Trustpilot for defamation over 20 negative reviews that accuse it of pursuing debts which it knows do not exist, it has emerged.

In a ruling earlier this week, Mrs Justice Tipples found the meaning of each review defamatory in common law of Leeds firm BW Legal.

This is an interim stage in defamation proceedings that comes before the defendant has to file a defence.

Tipples J emphasised: “The court is not, at this stage, adjudicating on any issue concerning any of the reviews, other than meaning. Specifically, the court is not determining whether allegations made in the reviews about the claimant (or anyone else) are true.”

BW Legal said most of the reviews made a similar allegation, namely that it “has been pursuing a debt which it knows, has been shown, or otherwise ought to know does not exist”.

In arguing that the meanings were not defamatory, Trustpilot’s counsel submitted that the starting point was that “the ordinary reasonable user” would seek out multiple reviews to form an overall impression, and would not rush to judgment on the basis of a single review.

He also argued that the ordinary reasonable reader would understand that the substantial majority of the statements in the reviews were, or included, expressions of opinion. This meant, Trustpilot said, that no one review would have “a substantial adverse effect on people’s attitudes towards the company”.

Tipples J described this approach as “fundamentally flawed”. She explained: “The issue for the court is what each statement complained of means and, amongst other things, whether that meaning is defamatory of the claimant at common law.

“The only admissible context is the review itself and the defendant’s argument as to how the ordinary reasonable reader will approach, and read, the Trustpilot website is unrealistic and based on speculation.”

The logic of the argument meant that no single review could ever be defamatory, the judge continued. “That consequence is nonsensical. Accordingly, in determining whether the statement complained of in one review is defamatory of the claimant at common law, all other reviews on the Trustpilot website are irrelevant.”

Tipples J said each review was defamatory “because the words complained of would lead ordinary people of ordinary sense to the opinion that the claimant conducts its business of debt recovery in an improper manner, and will have a substantial adverse effect on people’s attitudes towards the claimant”.

Looked at this morning, BW Legal has a Trustpilot score of just 1.1 (out of five), with 97% of the 496 reviews left rating it just one star.

However, the court held that the star rating “does not add anything to what the reviewer then sets out in their review” and so the statements complained of did not include ‘BW Legal is a one-star company’ as part of their natural and ordinary meaning.

A spokeswoman for Trustpilot said: “Trustpilot continues its efforts to protect consumers and freedom of expression by robustly defending the claim brought against it by BW Legal – and in a reassuring sign for both consumers and platforms, we are pleased to have received a positive judgment at the preliminary hearing.

“Context is key when determining whether online review content is defamatory. It is not reflective of a consumer’s experience to read only the black and white text of a review – which BW Legal put to the judge – and it is more important to consider the reality of how consumers come to find reviews.

“In this case, consumers would have searched for the business online, or for reviews of the business on Trustpilot, and in doing so would have been able to see all feedback from all reviewers.

“What’s more, we are pleased that the judge broadly accepted our argument that critical words on the Trustpilot platform – such as ‘scam’ or ‘fraud’ – should generally be understood as opinion not fact, expressed on a medium where people tend to post in less inhibited ways.

“We’re delighted with the ruling, which serves as a reminder that Trustpilot will always protect the right of our reviewers to express their opinions, without fear of legal action. Consumer voice is a cornerstone of our platform, and we are proud to take a stand against those who seek to suppress it.”

This is not the first time BW Legal has sued over negative online reviews. Last year, it failed in a bid for a Norwich Pharmacal order aimed at uncovering the identities of people who posted reviews about it on the Glassdoor website.

In 2021, the High Court awarded London law firm Summerfield Browne damages of £25,000 for a defamatory review on Trustpilot posted by a disgruntled former client. The claim was brought against the client, not Trustpilot.

    Readers Comments

  • Paul says:

    What I find curious is how TrustPilot can post reviews online without first recording any evidence etc. We’ve received a few reviews stating that are “scammers” and we know that if TrustPilot were asked to substantiate these claims , they would be unable to do so. I find it hard to believe that in this day and age , anyone can post a negative review against any business without any supporting documents etc.

  • Jason says:

    We are also going to be suing trustpilot. Their systems are made to only hurt businesses and these bad reviews create major harm to our companies. There is no system in place for any protection. We have one review where the customer said I called his mother and father when we sued him for filing an illegal chargeback against us for a massage chair he tried to steal. Since he lost he decided to leave us multiple 1 star fake reviews. Trust pilot did nothing about it. A company like this should take both sides into effect vs one

  • Heather Gale says:

    Jason I hope you tell us your firm bc I would like people to avoid you from what you are commenting here. You cannot takeaway our rights to review how we see fit; products or services. Sorry your business is hurt but maybe show that you are at least address the issues raised in trust pilot. Not disgrace the complained or name call or sue only facts. The fact is some e was affected so much the reviews badly. It was so bad to them that they were powerless but could at least review and say how he felt. It was real to that person. You should have said sorry you felt that way let me look into it. I’m disabled and rely heavily on the net to buy or try. Therefore I rely heavily on reviews. I look at negative and positive to see which one is feasible or emotive and not factual I look at companies how they deal with complaints. I look up business details as registered with the govt/council I look up lawsuits and how many and how easily co. Take them out. I buy in bulk but basically spend thousands on disability aids or services that make my life easier. Infact any shop apart from supermarkets as hubby does shopping. I am not going to deal with people that sue but who can defend with facts. That deal with a customer correctly You can’t sue Trustpilot for our views. More though try and sue me as I always write the truth as was presented to me. I cannot get sued for that. I cannot be sued for something they did and I reported it. Too often we are powerless against companies and no one listens. It’s our way of being heard. That and surveys. Moreso if I have proof

  • James says:

    Can anyone help on how to take action against trust Piolot?

    Someone has left several reviews claiming that our entire buisness is a scam. (See attached)

    I have so far had 6 figures worth of orders fall through at the last minute due to the clients saying they have done their ‘due diligence’ and will not be completing the order, as they have realised our entire business is a ‘scam’ on top of this, I have recently been trolled across social media by a client who demanded a refund because they had seen this review. We have already ordered all their materials and refunding will only make them think we are a scam that wanted to keep them quiet.

    We are a small family buisness and the clients who have told us the reason I am sure there are many more that would have ordered otherwise.

    Trust Piolot said they will not remove the review. They will only do so if it can be seen to potent cause ‘financial loss to a buisness’

    This is an absolute disgrace. Once someone sees this there is little that can be said to convince them otherwise. Trust Piolot WILL NOT remove it,

    Action has to be taken, no platform should be able to put hard working people out of buisness when they have done absolutely nothing wrong.

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