A lawyer from the legal firm ACS:Law has been referred to a disciplinary tribunal over a series of letters that accused people of having shared copyrighted material over their internet connections.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has referred Andrew Crossley to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) in connection with the letters, which threatened legal action against the recipients but offered to make cases go away in exchange for hundreds of pounds each time, the consumer group Which? said in a statement on Monday.
The letters earned condemnation not only from Which? — who complained to the SRA about them in May 2009 — but even from the BPI, which said they were "at odds with the proportionate and graduated response [to unlawful file-sharing] proposed in the Digital Economy Bill".
"We welcome this decision because we've received so many complaints from consumers who believe they been treated appallingly by this law firm," Which? legal chief Deborah Prince said in a statement on Monday. "We also believe that it's time for the profession to take action against law firms, and those responsible for them, which behave in a way we believe most right-thinking people would view as both aggressive and bullying."
SRA spokesman Geoffrey Negus told ZDNet UK on Tuesday that the tribunal still had to accept that there was a legitimate case to be answered. "The QC representing us has not finished drafting the allegations," he said. "We're still taking witness statements, but we have enough... to be concerned."
In May, after the SRA said it was investigating ACS:Law, Crossley said in a public letter that the allegations of him demanding payment in his initial letters of claim were "not true".
"The recipient of the letter of claim is afforded the opportunity if they wish to close the matter off and avoid the issue continuing by entering into a compromise agreement to bring the matter to an end," Crossley wrote. "They are under no compulsion or obligation to do this and the compromise agreement is an entirely voluntary process."
It is not clear whether any of these letters sent by ACS:Law or any other law firm have actually resulted in a court case.
On Tuesday, Negus stressed that the ACS:Law case was similar but not identical to that of Davenport Lyons, the first UK law firm to try such a letter-writing campaign. Davenport Lyons solicitors Brian Miller and David Gore were referred to the SDT in March. That case also followed a complaint by Which? to the SRA back in December 2008, although a hearing has still not been scheduled.
"The SRA must look at ways to speed up its complaints process," Prince said on Monday. "It's taking far too long finalising its case against Davenport Lyons' two former partners. It made its decision in March to refer the solicitors to the SDT, and here we are five months down the line and still waiting for that to happen. This is not satisfactory in my opinion."
Another law firm has also been the subject of similar complaints to the SRA, Negus said, although he did not name the company in question.