George Galloway’s lawyers have been warned by their professional regulator about the content of letters they sent threatening legal action against certain Twitter users.
The letters were written following Tweets sent in response to the appearance of Mr. Galloway on BBC television’s Question Time programme filmed in Finchley, London, on 5 February 2015.
The 12 tweeters in question had accused Mr. Galloway, then a Member of Parliament, of being anti-Semitic, something which he has always strongly denied.
According to The Times, Chambers Solicitors in Bradford sent the 12 legal letters which demanded each Twitter subscriber who accused Mr. Galloway of anti-Semitism pay thousands of pounds for having made the remark. Mr. Galloway has enjoyed a long relationship with Chambers Solicitors, having once used their offices as his base in Bradford according to The Spectator magazine.
The letters alleged that Mr. Galloway had been libelled by tweets which suggested he was an anti-Semite, and as a result they sought appropriate compensation, adding: “You are also required by 17.00 on 2 March 2015 to pay to this office our client’s legal costs which currently stand at £5,000 plus VAT.”
In response to the apparently extortionate demand, the 12 subscribers targeted by Mr. Galloway’s lawyers formed a group on Twitter called @SuedbyGalloway and pushed back against the letters. Libel lawyer Mark Lewis, of phone-hacking fame, reported Chambers Solicitors to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).
Laura Marcus, a freelance journalist, received one of the Chambers letters which she described as threatening and intimidatory, explaining: “It says that if I pay this money, then no court action will be taken against me. But If I do not, then a charge could be put on my property and proceedings brought against me to make me bankrupt.”
She claimed the letter was sent “in the hope that people will be terrified by it and pay up.”
The SRA has now reminded Chambers Solicitors of its obligations to ensure that “they behave in a way that does not appear to seek to take unfair advantage of the individuals”. It further notes that the firm’s costs “appear to be high” and the “tone of the letter is also not desirable” but ruled out “further action or investigation” as “disproportionate”.
The matter is not likely to end here, as both the sender and recipients of the letters are looking to challenge the SRA’s response. Chambers Solicitors is challenging the fact it was sent at all, whereas lawyers acting for the targets of the demands are considering judicial review proceedings against the regulator for not going further.
Representing Ms. Marcus, media partner Mark Stephens at the law firm Howard Kennedy said:
“They don’t seem to have addressed the question of costs at all. If £5,000 is being charged for each of these 12 people, how do you justify collective costs of £60,000? That kind of money should take you half way to trial – not just a letter before action.”