University of Sussex Students' Newspaper

Man fined £25,000 over online review

Ewan Vellinga

ByEwan Vellinga

Feb 18, 2021

Words by Lucy Evans

Phillip James Waymouth had hired London based law firm Summerfield Browne for legal support, and after being dissatisfied with the service, had left a scathing TrustPilot review which according to court documents accused the firm of being ‘another scam solicitor’. 

Subsequently Summerfield Browne took legal action, accusing Waymouth of libel, stating that his review was ‘untrue and defamatory’, a statement which on the 4th February was upheld within the High Court.

The law firm stated that in the five weeks following the review, enquiries had significantly dropped, from 50-60 per week to 30-40.

Mr Waymouth was disappointed with the service he received having paid £200 plus VAT, alleging that “what I got was just the information I sent them, reworded and sent back to me.”. 

Judge Master David Cook stated that Waymouth’s review “had a clear tendency to put people off dealing with the claimant firm”, and thus determined Waymouth had libelled Summerfield Browne, and ordered he paid £25,000 in damages.

Waymouth did not attend the hearing, nor sent a representative. Judge Cook stated Waymouth ‘never fully articulated’ why he was unhappy with the work of the legal firm.

TrustPilot have since responded, condemning the legal action taken, stating that they “strongly oppose the use of legal action to silence consumers’ freedom of speech”. A banner warning other users of the legal action has also been placed on Summerfield Browne’s page. 

TrustPilot continued, stating this was “the first time we’ve seen a business taking such extreme measures against a consumer voicing their genuine opinion”. They also stated that they were never contacted by Summerfield Browne, nor were proper review flagging protocols followed prior to legal action being taken.

Summerfield Browne’s profile is now closed for new reviews, following an influx of negative reviews, left in support of Mr Waymouth- their average star rating having dropped to 2.1 out of five. 

TrustPilot continued to criticise the response by the legal company, stating “It is much better for businesses to engage, respond and improve upon the feedback they receive, rather than using legal action to silence consumers”, a sentiment echoed by Jason Williams from Lawgistics, who stated that businesses should not react defensively or demand the comment be removed, but reply to negative comments with a “carefully worded response”.

Picture Credit: Bjørn Erik Pederson

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