The President of the High Court has made orders directing that a website involved in a practice known as “claims harvesting” should be shut down.
Claims harvesting is a practice where information on potential litigants in personal injuries claims is passed on to third-party legal firms by someone connected to the website operator.
Mr Justice Peter Kelly made orders requiring that a website called www.personalinjurysolicitorsdublin.info be removed.
The judge said he was satisfied to make orders after finding any person who read the contents of the website would believe they were dealing with a service that could only be offered by solicitors.
The orders were made against businessman David Smyth and Agenda Computers, a firm of which he is a director, both with an address at Eldon, St John’s Hill, Waterford.
The Law Society claimed Mr Smyth, who is not a qualified solicitor, had operated the website.
The Law Society sought the orders against Mr Smyth and the company on grounds the website contained statements in breach of the advertising provisions of Solicitors Acts, in particular soliciting and encouraging the making of personal injury claims.
It claimed Mr Smyth appeared to be providing legal advice and was pretending he was a solicitor and there was a firm called Personal Injury Solicitors Dublin, when he was not a solicitor and there was no such firm.
Claims harvesting sites encourage and appear to solicit people making personal injuries claims, the Law Society claimed.
Represented by Paul Anthony McDermott SC, instructed by McDowell Purcell solicitors, the Law Society said investigators acting on its behalf had, 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. Sometime later, the investigators received a call, this time from solicitors who got referrals from the website. The investigation had lead the Law Society to Mr Smyth and his company.
Mr Smyth and Agenda had opposed some of the orders sought, including one directing the website be removed, but 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.
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”, “No Win No Fee talk to us without obligation” and “Let our associate Personal Injuries Solicitors help you keep 100% of your compensation”.
While the website did include a disclaimer “in small print” that “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”, the judge said
“No other inference could be drawn,” Mr Justice Kelly said.
The website would also lead people to believe 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, he said.
The sale of the website by Mr Smyth for €6,000 was also “curious” as he did not initially wish to identify the buyer, who it was learned was a solicitor who practises both in the Republic and Northern Ireland.
The sale concerning the website was also to be governed by UK law, not Irish law, the judge said.
Following the judge’s ruling, Mr Smyth gave an undertaking to comply with the courts order within 14 days and to provide the Law Society with information in his possession relating to the website.