ACS:Law may be forced to pay defendants’ legal costs due to its ‘chaotic and lamentable’ actions
A judge in the Patents County Court ruled on Monday that an action against ACS:Law requiring the firm to pay defendants’ costs could go ahead.
The ruling means that ACS:Law and its sole solicitor, Andrew Crossley, could be forced to pay the legal costs of defendants ACS:Law originally brought to court for alleged file-sharing offences.
The basis for a wasted-costs action is that a legal representative has acted improperly, unreasonably or negligently, causing the applicant to incur unnecessary costs. The judge in the case, His Honour Judge Birss QC, in the Monday ruling suggested that ACS:Law fulfilled those critera, saying the company’s conduct was “chaotic and lamentable” describing it as “amateurish and slipshod”.
“Documents which plainly should have been provided were not provided,” Birss wrote. “This was not the behaviour of a solicitor advancing a normal piece of litigation. I do not doubt that this led to unnecessarily incurred costs.”
ACS:Law originally brought a number of cases of alleged illegal file downloading to court on behalf of its client, Media CAT, which represented rights holders involved in the alleged offences.
The court action followed ACS:Law sending out tens or hundreds of thousands of letters to individuals accusing them of illegally downloading copyrighted content. The recipients were asked to pay £500 or face legal action.
Media CAT and ACS:Law then tried to discontinue the proceedings shortly before the first hearing in January.
Birss refused to allow the claims to be dropped without a hearing, in part because he noted that ACS:Law was continuing its letter-writing campaign against other individuals. This activity required judicial scrutiny, Birss wrote in a January decision.
“The notices … avoid judicial scrutiny of the underlying claims … which, despite the purported discontinuance, are (or were) being pressed ahead in correspondence against many other individuals,” he wrote.
Law firm Ralli, which represented some of the accused individuals, said the application for wasted costs would be proved to be justified.
“We are dealing with cases where consumers have explained how they cannot possibly have uploaded or downloaded copyright protected material, but they are still pursued,” said Michael Forrester of Ralli’s Intellectual Property and IT law team, in a statement.
In his Monday ruling Birss noted that a revenue-sharing arrangement between ACS:Law and Media CAT, which divided up any potential takings from the letter-writing campaigns, had “brought the legal profession into disrepute”.
Both ACS:Law and Media CAT have now been wound up.
ACS:Law’s application for permission to appeal was refused by Birss.