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Davenport Lyons partners fined £20,000 for role in file-sharing campaign

2 August 2011

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal has fined two Davenport Lyons partners £20,000 each and suspended them from practice for three months for their part in a campaign against individuals they accused of illegal file sharing.

The tribunal found against David Gore and Brian Miller – who left the firm before the proceedings started – on 10 June, saying the two solicitors had breached the 2007 code of conduct on six counts.

The two men were also ordered to pay the costs of the Solicitors Regulation Authority, which have been estimated at £150,000 and will be subject to a detailed assessment. They have 21 days to lodge an appeal.

Most of the 172 fines imposed by the SDT last year, which ranged from £500 to £25,000, were in the low thousands. The tribunal chairman said the fines in this case reflected the seriousness of the infringements.

Acting for a number of clients in the media sector, Miller and Gore sent thousands of letters to web users between 2006 and 2009 accusing them of unlawful file sharing in breach of the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1998.

The letters, described by the SRA as "intimidating", usually asked for £500 in compensation and costs, and invited recipients to settle the matter if they wanted to avoid court proceedings.

In its ruling on the substantive issue of the breach of the code, the tribunal found in June that the two solicitors had become more concerned about making the litigation scheme profitable for themselves, regardless of the impact on recipients or their clients’ interests.

An SRA spokesperson said: “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.”

Davenport Lyons responded to the ruling saying both the decision and the sanctions were "totally unjustified".

In a statement the firm said: "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.

We wholeheartedly support David and Brian’s intention to appeal both the Solicitors’ Disciplinary Tribunal’s original decision and the resulting suspension and fine.”

The six allegations the tribunal found proven were:

(1) Breach of rule 1.03 of the Solicitors Code of Conduct 2007: respondents allowed their independence to be compromised.

(2) Breach of rule 1.04: respondents did not act in the best interests of their clients.

(3) Breach of rule 1.06: respondents acted in a way that was likely to diminish the trust the public place in them or in the legal profession.

(4) Breach of rule 2.04(1): respondents entered into arrangements to receive contingency fees for work done in prosecuting or defending contentious proceedings before the courts of England and Wales except as permitted by statute or the common law.

(5) Breach of rule 3.01: respondents acted where there was a conflict of interest in circumstances not permitted under the rules, in particular because there was a conflict or significant risk that the respondents and/or their firm’s interests were in conflict with those of their clients.

(6) Breach of rule 10.01: respondents 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.

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