High Court President orders closure of 'claims harvesting' website

The President of the High Court has made orders directing that a website involved in a practice known as 'claims harvesting' be shut down.

High Court President orders closure of 'claims harvesting' website

By Ann O'Loughlin

The President of the High Court has made orders directing that a website involved in a practice known as 'claims harvesting' be shut down.

Mr Justice Peter Kelly made orders that a website called www.personalinjurysolicitorsdublin.info be removed.

The Judge said he was satisfied to make orders after finding that any person who read the contents of the website would believe that they were dealing with a service that could only be offered by solicitors.

The orders were made against businessman Mr David Smyth and a firm he is a director of called Agenda Computers, both with an address at Eldon, St Johns Hill, Waterford, who the Law Society of Ireland said had operated the website.

The Society sought the orders against Mr Smyth, who is not a qualified solicitor, and the company on the grounds the website contained statements that are in breach of the advertising provisions of Solicitors Acts, in particular soliciting and encouraging the making of PI claims.

It claimed Mr Smyth appeared to be providing legal advice and was pretending he was a solicitor and that there was a firm called Personal Injury Solicitors Dublin, when he was not a solicitor and there was no such firm.

'Claims Harvesting' is a practise where information on potential litigants in personal injuries claims is passed on to third-party legal firms by someone connected to the website operator.

These sites encourage and appear to solicit people making personal injuries claims.

Represented by Paul Anthony McDermott SC the Society said investigators, on its behalf while looking into the practice of claims harvesting, called a number on the website.

The investigators got calls back from a person asking for personal details. Some time later the investigators received another call this time from solicitors who got referrals from the website.

It was this investigation that lead the Law Society to Mr Smyth and his company.

Mr Smyth and Agenda had opposed some of orders being made against him, including one directing that the website to be removed, and had consented to others. Mr Smyth gave evidence that he had sold the website to a solicitor a few days before the hearing.

In his ruling, Mr Justice Kelly said he was satisfied to grant the orders sought by the Law Society.

He noted the website contained many statements including "You should choose well-trained and fully experienced associate solicitors of Personal Injury Solicitors, Dublin because simply we get you what you deserve," or "No Win No Fee talk to us without obligation" and "Let our associate Personal Injuries Solicitors help you keep 100% of your compensation".

The Judge said while the website did include a disclaimer "in small print" which "appeared to be written by somebody whose first language was not English", any person who read the website would believe they "were getting in contact with a solicitor."

"No other inference could be drawn," Mr Justice Kelly said adding that the website would also lead people to believe that, not only was it offering the services of expert personal injury lawyers, but also lawyers who specialised in certain types of injuries such as whiplash.

The Judge said the sale of the website by Mr Smyth for €6000 was also "curious", as initially he did not wish to identify the buyer, who it was learned was a solicitor who practises in both Ireland and Northern Ireland.

The sale concerning the website was also to be governed not by Irish but by UK law, the Judge also noted.

Following the court's decision, Mr Smyth gave an undertaking to comply with the court's order within 14 days and to provide the Law Society with information within his possession relating to the website.

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