The appearance of a bad review on a consumer website can be a devastating blow to any business. However, as a High Court case showed, the law will not stand by if such a review strays beyond honest opinion and descends into the realms of libel.
The case concerned a former client of a professional firm who was alleged to have posted a review on a widely visited consumer website which described the advice he received from the firm as a ‘total waste of money’ and ‘a scam’. The firm launched libel proceedings against him on the basis that it had suffered serious reputational and financial harm as a result of the review, which amounted to an accusation of fraud.
The firm pointed out that it was in good standing and that it had never been criticised by its professional regulator for any dishonest or fraudulent behaviour. Following a hearing, the former client’s defence that the post represented an honest expression of opinion was struck out on the basis that it had no real prospect of succeeding. He would clearly have been aware of the seriousness of the allegation, but had not shown that he had carried out any adequate enquiries or checks before the post was made.
He had made no attempt to engage in the firm’s dispute resolution process and the fact that he had sought money as a price for removing the review wholly undermined his defence that it had been published in the public interest. His claim that the allegation was true lacked any evidential support and was fanciful. The firm was awarded summary judgment on both those issues.
The Court found that the firm had suffered a significant falling off in its business for some months after the review was posted. The former client was ordered to pay the firm £25,000 in damages and was issued with an injunction requiring him to remove the post and to refrain from publishing any further defamatory allegations. The consumer website was also ordered to take down the post.