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'Geeklawyer' barrister instructed himself in Newzbin case

30 January 2012

A barrister who tweeted under the name ‘geeklawyer’ has been disbarred by the Bar Standards Board for a variety of offences after he instructed himself in a High Court piracy case and failed to admit that he owned the website involved.

The Bar Standards Board said David Harris, who practised from Technology Chambers in Brighton, had “deceived or knowingly or recklessly misled” the court when he claimed to be holding 100 per cent of the shares in Newzbin on behalf of someone else.

Twentieth Century Fox and other leading film studios sued Newzbin in the High Court in March 2010, claiming the website was “focused on piracy” by distributing unlawful copies on films.

Giving judgment in Twentieth Century Fox Corporation and others v Newzbin [2010] EWHC 608 (Ch), Mr Justice Kitchin said the trial had “followed a rather unusual course”.

He said that after the close of evidence Newzbin “sought an adjournment to instruct solicitors and new counsel because it had become apparent that Mr Harris had acquired shares in the defendant and because he did not feel able to represent the defendant in the light of the way the case had developed and the evidence which had emerged”.

Kitchin J went on to grant the film studios an injunction to restrain the defendant from infringing copyrights in relation to their repertoire of films.

According to the BSB’s charge sheet for last week’s disciplinary ruling, Harris claimed to the court that he “did not know if he had a significant pecuniary interest in the company” when in fact he had bought 100 per cent of the share capital for a “substantial purchase price” in 2009.

Along with misleading the court, the BSB hearing found Harris liable for four other misconduct offences.

These related to his acceptance of public access instructions by Newzbin, although he had “promoted and participated in” the company and owned 100 per cent of the share capital, where “it would be difficult for him to maintain professional independence or the administration of justice might be or appear to be prejudiced and where he had reason to believe that he was likely to be a witness”.

Harris was also found to have committed misconduct offences by issuing Twitter messages under the handle ‘Geeklawyer’, which were widely reported in the national press.

As well as being disbarred, he was fined £2,500 and ordered to pay the costs of the hearing.

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