ON HIS own Twitter feed, George Galloway MP insists that retweeting someone else’s comment is “not per se endorsement: sometimes the opposite”. When someone else retweets a comment about him, however, he regards it as an endorsement – and, quite probably, a potential libel.
Hence the blizzard of “letters before action” sent on his behalf in the past fortnight to people who retweeted messages supporting Hadley Freeman, a Guardian columnist whom he is suing. One recipient, as reported in the Times last Saturday, is a charity worker in Yorkshire with just 75 followers on Twitter. While the media focus on Galloway’s bullying manner, however, the behaviour of his solicitors, Messrs Chambers of Bradford, deserves attention too.
Sue, Grabbit and Runne
The letters to tweeters are generic boilerplate, so carelessly copied-and-pasted that the one sent to the male charity worker begins “Dear Miss…” Yet Chambers, aka Sue, Grabbit and Runne, claim that each of these standard letters costs them thousands of pounds to send – and they expect to be reimbursed at once.
After demanding an immediate apology and “significant sums” in damages, they add: "You are also required, by 17.00 on 10 March 2015 to pay to this office our Clients [sic] legal costs which currently stand at £5,000 plus VAT.”
Galloway’s spokesman told the Independent last weekend this was “normal practice” for lawyers. Utter nonsense: even Carter-Fuck never goes that far. A leading litigation solicitor confirms to the Eye that it is “improper” and “not normal practice” to bill a recipient for costs in an initial letter.
Chambers claims it was put to such expense because it had to trace the tweeters’ addresses. Since some would inevitably be easier to find than others, however, it defies rational belief that every separate task would have taken precisely £5,000-worth (plus VAT) of the solicitors’ time. Since Chambers doesn’t give any breakdown of the costs – as it should – there’s no way of telling if it was fair.
The Eye has now drawn the letter to the attention of the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), which takes a dim view of this sort of “speculative invoicing”.
The SRA code of practice says lawyers should provide a third party with “sufficient time and information to enable the costs in any matter to be agreed”, should not take “unfair advantage of an opposing party’s lack of legal knowledge where they have not instructed a lawyer” – and should certainly not be “demanding anything for yourself or on behalf of your client, that is not [at that stage] legally recoverable”, such as demanding “the cost of the letter of claim” at the outset. The main victims of Galloway’s legal bombardment may turn out to be his own solicitors.
PS “All should boycott the drug launderers HSBC,” Galloway tweeted furiously last summer, during a campaign against the bank for its closure of certain Muslim groups’ accounts and its financial involvement with Israel. The account into which Chambers wants tweeters to pay Galloway’s “costs” of £5,000 is, naturally… at HSBC!