The Defendant client Googled “legal advice” and got the Claimant solicitors firm. He signed their standard terms and conditions and paid a fixed fee of £200 for some legal advice.
The client didn’t like the advice he received.
Rather than express his dissatisfaction with his solicitor directly, the client posted a negative review on Trustpilot under the heading:
A total waste of money another scam solicitor.
The Claimant solicitors responded with libel proceedings. It was contended by the client that his comments were justified as his “honest opinion” and “public interest” and “truth”. He did not otherwise engage meaningfully with proceedings.
A Master of the High Court concluded that:
…the defence is fanciful and it cannot be proportionate for the matter to proceed to a full trial.
Damages of £25,000 were awarded.
A Pyrrhic victory
The ruling has attracted significant negative publicity, not least a plethora of negative online reviews.
Trustpilot have since added an alert to their Summerfield Browne page:
Please be aware that this business has taken legal action against a consumer for a review left on this profile.
We strongly oppose the use of legal action to silence consumer’s freedom of speech. As a public, open, review platform we believe strongly in consumers having the ability to leave feedback – good or bad – about a business at any time, without interference.
This is the first time we’ve seen a business taking such extreme measures against a consumer voicing their genuine opinion. The vast majority of businesses on Trustpilot engage with their consumers or use our flagging tools to report content and resolve their issues.
Unfortunately, we are required to remove the review which was the subject of the legal action. We are exploring our options to challenge this decision.
The business’ actions have resulted in media attention and this profile has seen a significant increase in reviews that don’t reflect an experience with the business.
Due to this, this profile has been temporarily closed for new reviews.
Just because you can issue proceedings, doesn’t always mean that you should.