Judge's criticism of the Internet
The website www.rate-your-solicitor.com. has been shut down without trace.
I was not present in court when the order was made and the following article is based on reports in the Irish Examiner and Irish Independent of 1 February and on the Wikipedia article on the Law Society of Ireland. My criticism is subject to the truth of these reports.
According to the Irish Examiner and the Irish Independent, Mr Justice Michael Peart made the order on Tuesday 31 January 2012. He granted mandatory injunctions, pending the full hearing of the action, against Mr John Gill, of Drumline, Newmarket-on-Fergus, Co Clare, Ms Vogelaar, of Parklands, Westport, Co Mayo, and Dolster Inc, the website host. This was on foot of a defamation action taken by Solicitor Damien Tansey against all three defendants.
The orders required them to terminate the operation of the website. They were also ordered to remove various material posted about Mr Tansey and refrain from publishing "further defamatory material" about him. Mr Gill and Ms Vogelaar denied the claims against them.
I have been in Mr Justice Peart's court on many occasions with various people, and on all such occasions I have been impressed with what I perceived to be his sense of fairness and humanity.
I have also looked at the website in question from time to time and have noticed that comments both for and against the named solicitors were published. Allegations were made, it is true. Some of these were of a most serious nature. Outlandish and defamatory some of them, one might say, if they were not true. However, some of them were later accepted as true in the Irish Courts and a number of the solicitors who had first been named on the site were later struck off the register of solicitors by other orders of the High Court.
I am disappointed that Mr Justice Peart made an order to shut down this website. At my last viewing, it contained many complaints against numerous solicitors, even some who later became Judges. Most of these were not tested by the Courts.
I leave aside the Tansey case which, as I understand it from the reports, is still sub judice.
But how, in respect of the complaints against solicitors other than Mr Tansey, could Judge Peart determine that these complaints were untrue? Why, I wonder, was it not possible for Judge Peart to order that the material written about Mr Tansey, and only that material, be removed? Why did he shut down the whole website? Mr Tansey hardly had locus standi on behalf of all who were complained about on the website?
Of course it is wrong to publish defamatory material. But to publish fair comment has always been the right of the reporter.
According to one report, the Judge also made general comments about the internet to the effect that it has facilitated an easy, inexpensive and instant means of "allowing unscrupulous persons or ill-motivated malcontents to vent their anger and grievances against people, where their allegations are patently untrue and unreasonable". He added that damage caused could in some extreme cases lead to suicide.
The entry in Wikipedia about the Law Society of Ireland contains a paragraph with a description of the website that to me appears closer to the truth than that contained in the the stinging criticism of Judge Peart. The pertinent account is as follows:
"A special Committee of the Law Society has said it was utterly appalled at reports that some solicitors had double-charged for work done for victims of institutional abuse.
In a lecture given to students in Cork, the Master of the High Court Edmund Honohan SC advocated independent regulation of the profession saying that no spinning by the Society could disguise the systemic failure of self-regulation. He said most solicitors must now realise they had been let down, not just by a few rogue negligent solicitors, but by the Law Society itself.
A website launched in February 2006 by the Victims of the Legal Profession, www.Rate-Your-Solicitor.com has become an increasingly popular place for people to vent their frustrations with solicitors.
The Society has investigated a number of solicitors whose actions have damaged both their clients and the reputation of the profession. The most high-profile cases were those of Michael Lynn and Thomas Byrne, who were both struck off by the President of the High Court following investigation by the Society. The two Dublin solicitors, who were fined €2 million and €1 million respectively, may have cost financial institutions more than €100 million. The Law Society’s director general, Ken Murphy, has described as “incomprehensible” the length of time it has taken the Garda to investigate complaints against the two.The Law Society’s compensation fund was almost halved in value because of the number of claims against solicitors and the Law Society’s President John D Shaw said "I’d have to concede that the profession has suffered significant professional damage, but the vast majority of solicitors do their best, and I think they have been very let down by the few".The Law Society had to pay the €100,000 costs of a Supreme Court appeal it brought against two Dublin solicitors who admitted operating secret accounts to evade tax in May 2009." (Wikipedia)
Judge Peart, in his reference to the danger of suicide, did not consider the danger to the victims on the same website who, according to their accounts, have had their legal affairs messed up, their lands or property stolen, by rogue solicitors. If any of their accounts were true, and the "justice system" has failed them, and he has labelled them by implication as "unscrupulous, "malcontents" and now they have been deprived of a public forum in which "to vent their frustrations", their situations might well be considered "extreme cases". But sadly, this humane and good judge has overlooked their predicament while he expresses concern for other humans who just happen to be members of the legal profession.
How the mighty have fallen.