In September 2011, Rick Kordowski, promoter of the website www.solicitorsfromhell.co.uk, issued a claim against Desmond Hudson, Chief Executive of the Law Society, in respect of an alleged comment he made to Professor John Flood that “Rick Kordowski was a criminal”. The comment was subsequently published by Professor Flood on his blog.
Mr Kordowski, perhaps on a point of principle rather than in reliance on the strength of his case, issued a claim for slander, seeking relief by way of:
- a declaration that Mr Hudson’s statement to Professor Flood was false and defamatory;
- an order that Mr Hudson publish a suitable correction and apology; damages not exceeding £10,000;
- and an order restraining Mr Hudson from publishing or further publishing the matter.
In his defence, Mr Hudson submitted a plea of justification, stating that he did not say Mr Kordowski was a criminal, but that his methods of collecting payment in exchange for the removal of defamatory comments from his website amounted to criminal behaviour.
On Friday 21 October 2011, Mr Justice Tugendhat considered Mr Kordowski’s application for summary judgement. He concluded that the application was an abuse of process and that it was not capable of summary judgment because it was impossible to say whether the defence had no real prospect of success. In doing so, he also struck out the claim.
The learned judge identified the following facts to be relevant:
- The major conflict of evidence between the parties as to the exact words spoken by Mr Hudson.
- The words complained of were spoken to a single person, and although the reference to Mr Kordowski’s being a “criminal” in itself is extremely serious, the forum on which the comments were posted also included comments made by Professor Flood that were supportive of Mr Kordowski. Therefore, there was no evidence that Mr Hudson’s alleged comments had caused any real or substantial harm to Mr Kordowski’s reputation.
- Mr Kordowski chose to post the alleged comments he claimed to be defamatory on his own website, which was in conflict with any suggestion that the threat of republication and promotion of the comments to the world would tarnish his reputation.
Defamation – a point of principle?
Claims for slander are by their very nature difficult to prove as there is usually always a conflict of evidence, and the matter will boil down to who a Court believes is a more credible witness. As such, it is always worth exploring whether a factual scenario has merit in pursuing a claim for libel (or even malicious falsehood if the comments are not strictly defamatory but they do cause damage). Indeed, in his judgment, Tugendhat J identified that different factors would have been considered had Mr Kordowski chosen to bring a claim for libel in relation to the words published by Professor Flood, specifically as the publication of such a serious allegation would have been addressed to the public at large.