In the recent case Summerfield Browne Limited v Philip James Waymouth  EWHC 85 (QB) the High Court ordered Mr Waymouth to pay the Claimants, a law firm, £25,000 as well as the Claimant’s legal costs on an indemnity basis.
According to the judgment, by way of posting a negative review on the website Trust Pilot, Mr Waymouth accused Summerfield Browne of being “A total waste of money” and “another scam solicitor”. In Court documents he later accused them of deceiving him.
Summerfield Browne made a successful application for summary judgment. The judgment records the Judge as saying “the Defendant’s allegations are so bold that in the complete absence of any credible material to support them I can conclude there is no real prospect of them succeeding at trial… the defence is fanciful… I am satisfied that I should strike out the defence of honest opinion”.
In my view, somewhat surprisingly Trust Pilot didn’t think it was in everyone’s best interests to take the offending posts down. The Judge concluded “a substantial number of potential clients were put off and that there has therefore been a financially damaging impact”.
The Judge found that “general damages in the sum of £25,000 would adequately reflect the seriousness of the defamation, the financial loss which has occurred and the purpose of vindication”.
Trustpilot has warned users after a business sued a man for leaving a negative review on the platform.
“We strongly oppose the use of legal action to silence consumers’ freedom of speech,” says a message on the website.
The warning comes after a man was ordered to pay £25,000 in libel damages to solicitors who sued, on the basis the review was false and defamatory.
London-based Summerfield Browne said the decision to sue gave it “no pleasure” and was not taken lightly.
New reviews have been temporarily suspended on the law firm’s business page on Trustpilot after publicity about the case led to more reviews.
After seeking legal advice through the company online, Philip James Waymouth left a review on the website accusing the firm of being “another scam solicitor”, court documents said.
A banner at the top of Summerfield Browne’s profile on Trustpilot reads: “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 consumers’ 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.”
Following the court decision, several reviews were left on Trustpilot referencing the case and writing in support of Mr Waymouth.
The Trustpilot warning continues: “The business’s 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.”
Trustpilot told the BBC it was never contacted by Summerfield Browne, nor was the review flagged to the website.
It said it was not party to the case but “in the event that we are served with an order, we intend to challenge it”.
The platform added: “We believe there are a number of errors within the judgement and it raises significant concerns around freedom of speech.
“If consumers are left fearful of leaving negative reviews, this could result in consumers being misled about the quality of a business and businesses being deprived of the valuable feedback from which they can learn, improve and grow.
“It is much better for businesses to engage, respond and improve upon the feedback they receive, rather than using legal action to silence consumers.”
Summerfield Browne said in a statement: “As a family firm, the decision to pursue legal action was not one we took lightly and doing so gave us no pleasure.”
Prior to qualifying as a barrister and mediator, I set up, grew and sold three modest technology start-ups. The first was an internet solution provider specialising in online content management systems, the second a specialist on/offline distributor and the third an online price comparison site and sales aggregator which generated annual sales and leads of over £50m for a network of 50 nationwide partners. I was an equity holding non-exec director for a UK’s leading property sector aggregator for over 13 years.
I am a specialist Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) consultant for Mishcon de Reya. I have given presentations on ODR and Online Courts to the Law Society of Scotland LegalTech conference, to BACFI and the Arbitration Club, IT branch. Professor Richard Susskind said that Robin has “a remarkable set of experiences … all leading up to ODR, in my view!”. I am a mediator and arbitrator for World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) for technology and domain name disputes, a member of Society for Computing and Law and was a Chartered IT Professional of the British Computer Society (2014-17).
I have acted for and provided advice to clients on a very wide range of subjects that face most businesses big or small. Sometimes it is in times of legal crisis such as shareholder, board and employment disputes at others it relates to contract and debt disputes. I have also drafted reseller and outsourcing agreements. I have advised on online gambling contracts and litigation, defamation and on online reviews and the use of third party content and intellectual property without their consent.
I am able to advise customers, suppliers and sub-contractors involved in online, IT or telecoms projects in distress or those that have ended in dispute. I am also able to advise on dispute resolution systems design and architecture and strategic considerations and non-contentious planning.
I can be instructed by businesses and organisations direct under the public access scheme, or via a solicitor.