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, 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 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 Smyth, who is not a qualified solicitor, and the company on the grounds the website contained statements in breach of the advertising provisions of Solicitors Acts, in particular soliciting and encouraging the making of injury claims.
It claimed that Smyth appeared to be providing legal advice and was pretending that he was a solicitor with a firm called Personal Injury Solicitors Dublin when he was not a solicitor and there was no such firm.
‘Claims harvesting’ is a practice in which 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.
The society said investigators acting on its behalf called a number listed on the website. The investigators got calls back from a person asking for personal details.
Sometime later, the investigators received calls from solicitors who got referrals from the website. It was this investigation that led the law society to Smyth and his company.
Smyth and Agenda had opposed some of the orders – including one directing that the website to be removed – and consented to others. He 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.
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.”
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.
The judge said the sale of the website by Smyth for €6,000 was also “curious” as initially he did not wish to identify the buyer, who it was discovered 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, Smyth gave an undertaking to comply with the order within 14 days and to provide the law society with information within his possession relating to the website.