Defendant ordered to pay £25,000 for libellous Trustpilot review
Matthew Howe 28-01-2021
The recent decision in Summerfield Browne Ltd v Waymouth stands as a stark warning to those publishing malicious reviews online.
Mr Waymouth had instructed a firm of solicitors called Summerfield Browne Ltd on a fixed fee basis but eventually became dissatisfied with their service. However, he did not follow the firm’s complaints handling procedure nor did he ever fully explain why he was dissatisfied with the service provided.
Instead, Mr Waymouth decided to take his complaint to Trustpilot. Within his review, he described the firm as a ‘scam’. Following the publication, the firm saw a decline in weekly enquiries by almost half and believed that this was no coincidence.
Proceedings were issued for libel and the firm claimed damages of £25,000, special damages of £300 per day for the period of time that the review remained public, and they sought an order that the review be removed from Trustpilot.
Mr Weymouth did file a defence, relying upon ‘honest opinion’ and ‘public interest’. Believing that his defence was void of merit, the firm applied to have it struck out. A hearing was listed but Mr Weymouth did not attend.
Upon considering the submissions by the firm’s solicitor, including that the firm had a good standing since opening, Master Cook found that a significant amount of potential clients had been dissuaded from contacting the firm as a result of Mr Weymouth’s review. In his judgment, Master Cook found that it was unnecessary to proceed to a trial and entered summary judgment in favour of the firm.
The firm was awarded £25,000 in general damages along with an order for their costs to be paid on an indemnity basis and he confirmed that the review should be removed.
Reviews are, by their nature, opinions. It is widely accepted that a genuine opinion is not defamatory and this is reflected within the statutory defence of ‘honest opinion’ under the s.3 of the Defamation Act 2013. However, it not sufficient to make wild and unjustified statements of fact and then claim they were opinions. The courts have acknowledged that simply because someone claims something is their opinion does not automatically provide them a defence under ‘honest opinion’.
Mr Weymouth accused Summerfield Browne Ltd of being a scam but never explained the basis of this accusation. As a result, his reliance on 'honest opinion' and 'public interest' were struck out.