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The solicitors letter scam

Anyone who’s ever done welfare or debt advice work will know the solicitors letter scam.

The solicitors letter scam, in short, is where a debt collector uses the name of their inhouse solicitor, or a compliant law firm who lend their name to the scam, to try and intimidate the debtor into paying up before being taken to court. There’s no real intention to bring the matter to court, just to use the threat. The solicitors involved haven’t reviewed the case or discussed it with their clients, just agreed that at this stage in a process, such a letter may be sent.

Libel solicitors have a long and dishonourable tradition of doing much the same thing, using a letter that will never leas to action to try and intimidate the other party into silence, or a retraction. Arnold Goodman became almost a legend for his use of such tactics to silence those who  offended his friends in high places. Leo Abse was prone in later years to tell how he and others used similar letters to protect the reputation of errant colleagues like George Thomas.

You wouldn’t expect such tactics of a firm like Bindmans; headed up by Geoffrey Bindman, who cuts a high moral pose at all times, they have an impeccable reputation for being on the side of the angels, provided you ignore the exalted founder’s unfortunate brush with the solicitors disciplinary tribunal in 2001.

So what to make of the letter Bindmans have sent to Brooke Magnanti, alleging she has misrepresented or defamed Julie Bindel? I’m out of touch with pre-action protocols in defamation cases, but Bindman’s letter reads surprisingly like one of those matrimonial letters where some poor bloody paralegal has to try and tunn into legal jargon the complete farago of nonsense their client has just shouted down the phone at them from the school gates as he claims its his weekend for contact, again.

Of course, at this stage, no-one’s going to be put to proof of the claims they make in letters; like an absent father asserting that his ex’s conduct is emotional abuse, so Bindel’s claim to be part of a ‘lesbian and gay’ community isn’t goign to be weighed in the balance at this stage. Similarly, Bindel can claim, at this stage, to be a well-respected journalist and thinker, and no-one at her lawyers is going to raise a quizzical eyebrow.

Libel claims can have two purposes; one is the chilling effect I’ve described above, beloved of Goodman and his ilk. The other is a kind of reverse Streisand effect, where the ‘offended’ party uses their solicitors letter to garner publicity for themselves, to gain primacy for their assertion that the story published is a farrago of nonsense, and that they really are all the things they assert about themselves in their explanation of their reputation.

What happens next is in the hands of Bindmans, but they’ll be aware of the costs guarantees they’ll need to proceed to court, even if they can prove they have a claim against Magnanti and they can bring her (a foreign resident) to trial. My guess, for what it’s worth, is that Bindel would love to chill the debate about the logical consequences of her political positions while asserting her status is her ‘community’.

Legal advice is not what we do here, but if we were bookmakers we wouldn’t be taking bets on the likelihood of Magnanti’s reply reprising Arkell vs Pressdram.



3 comments on “The solicitors letter scam

  1. korhomme
    October 18, 2017

    Is Dr Magnanti really a foreign resident? She’s a UK citizen, and lives in Scotland (it says on the blurb on her latest book). Is Scotland ‘foreign’?


  2. Wendy Lyon
    October 21, 2017

    What I found most intriguing about that letter was the “not for publication” comment at the top of it. Admittedly defamation law isn’t my area, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen that in a warning letter, and I wonder what its purpose was. If they know anything about Brooke Magnanti surely they would realise that would be like a red rag to a bull (and maybe that was the point, but I dunno).

    The rest of the letter does strike me as the kind that you have to send whether or not you intend to actually bring proceedings. If you do, the Court will want to see that you gave the defendant a fair opportunity to mend their hand before you instituted your action. It also helps the plaintiff’s lawyers buy some time (to avoid a defence of delay) while allowing for the opportunity of any evidence to arise that might indicate that bringing actual proceedings is not such a great idea.

    Bindel has a habit of claiming to be innocent of allegations that are demonstrably true: in a Facebook group I’m in, she once loudly objected when someone said she engaged in ad hominem attacks against her opponents. Anyone who reads her Twitter account will know that most of her timeline is nothing but. Most likely she instructed Bindman’s that Brooke’s allegations weren’t true and they duly issued the letter on the basis of those instructions, without a definitive plan to take it further.

    In light of that Newsweek piece of hers that’s been tweeted around in response, I’d be very surprised if they did. My own bias aside, and again acknowledging I’m not a defamation lawyer, I sure wouldn’t want to run a case arguing that an accusation of “joining the fight to pimp prostitution” isn’t an accusation of “being in the pimp lobby” as she describes it.

    Liked by 1 person

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This entry was posted on October 18, 2017 by in Uncategorized.

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