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Tribunal findings back drive to protect the public

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has hailed the findings of the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) in a high-profile case as endorsement of the drive to place the consumer at the heart of legal services.

The SRA launched its regime of Outcomes-focused regulation in October, moving away from a tick-box approach and instead expecting firms to minimise risks and secure positive results for customers on behalf of the profession. And the SRA believes that the judgement on Davenport Lyons pair Brian Miller and David Gore published by the SDT includes assertions by the panel that support this approach.

Miller and Gore faced six allegations of breaching the Solicitors' Code of Conduct 2007 for sending over 6,000 letters on behalf of various clients, claiming the recipients had been involved in unlawful file-sharing. The six allegations were all proven and included not acting in the best interests of their clients, acting in a way that was likely to diminish the trust the public place in them or in the legal profession and using their position as solicitors to take or attempt to take unfair advantage.

Antony Townsend, Chief Executive of the SRA, said: "We've been working for a long time to put the consumer at the heart of legal services. The underlying principles for the new Code of Conduct compel all those we regulate to consider the needs of clients and the public interest, and to act ethically.

"That fact that this case was based upon the old Code of Conduct is irrelevant. All solicitors have a duty to ensure that they do not act in a way that diminishes the public's trust in the legal profession, and indeed the tribunal considered this one of the more serious of the allegations in the case."

The tribunal judgement, published on Monday 3 October, details how the letters sent demanded compensation and costs and warned further action and increased costs if the matter was not settled immediately. In finding the allegations proven, the tribunal said "...the letters of claim were (initially) sent to unrepresented members of the public, some of whom were likely to remain so. Some of them were potentially vulnerable. (Mr Miller and Mr Gore) were aware of that" (Paragraph 209).

It also said that the Scheme relied on the "misleading, overbearing and intentionally intimidating nature of the letters, and the aggressive demands for payment, leading alleged infringers to believe that they were liable for any infringing activity... These were the central features likely to diminish the trust the public place in the Respondents or in the profession" (Paragraphs 183).

And there was concern about the impact of the claims on members of the public, "The letters of claim had a devastating impact on many of the individuals who received them, causing enormous distress, upset and frustration and sometimes exacerbating health problems" (Paragraph 184).

The SDT fined Mr Miller and Mr Gore £20,000 each, ordered them to pay interim costs to the SRA of £150,000 and suspended them from practising for three months.


Note to editors

The SDT judgement can be viewed here. 

The findings of the allegations can be found from Paragraphs 178 to 209.  

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