By: MarkJ - 16 January, 2012 (6:25 AM)
p2p copyright uk ISP file sharing lawUPDATE 3:20pm: Andrew Crossley has been suspended for 2 years by the SDT (scroll to the bottom for more updates and costs).

The notorious boss of failed solicitors firm ACS:Law UK and winner of the 2011 ISPA Internet Villain award, Andrew Crossley (Solicitor ID 150435), will at 10:00am this morning face a substantive hearing in front of the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT). The Solicitors Regulatory Authority (SRA) has tabled seven charges against Crossley, not least for "[attempting] to take unfair advantage of other persons" (broadband ISP customers) and that of providing "false information" to a court.

ACS:Law made its money by "bullying" ISP customers, specifically those whom were "suspected" of being involved with "illegal" internet copyright infringement (piracy) via public P2P file sharing networks, into paying hefty fines (e.g. £500+). Those who refused to pay were threatened with court action, which rarely ever materialised due to the high costs involved.

Related firms typically track P2P piracy by monitoring the public Internet Protocol ( IP ) addresses of online users, which are assigned to your computer each time you go online. But IP's can easily be faked, hijacked or even shared (e.g. public Wi-Fi, office networks, home networks etc.) in ways that, as the SRA's Timothy Dutton QC described during the summer, turns it into evidence of the "flimsiest" variety.

It's known that ACS:Law sent thousands of letters and only a small number of cases ever actually made it to court. Judge Birss QC ultimately squashed and exposed ACS:Law's actions as being "amateurish and slipshod" (here and here). The case, in combination with past complaints, triggered ACS:Law's collapse and exposed the firms many misdeeds. Crossley was left bankrupt (here) but, despite being a man of allegedly "limited means", he still manages to live the good life (here).
SRA Charges vs Andrew Crossley (ACS:Law)

The Tribunal has certified that there is a case to answer in respect of allegations which are or include that [Crossley] :-

1) Allowed his independence to be compromised.

2) Acted contrary to the best interests of his clients.

3) Acted in a way that was likely to diminish the trust the public places in him or in the legal profession.

4) Entered into arrangements to receive contingency fees for work done in prosecuting or defending contentious proceedings before the Courts of England and Wales except as permitted by statute or the common law.

5) Acted where there was a conflict of interest in circumstances not permitted, in particular because there was a conflict with those of his clients.

6) Used his position as a Solicitor to take or attempt to take unfair advantage of other persons being recipients of letters of claim either for his own benefit or for the benefit of his clients.

7) Acted without integrity in that he provided false information in statements made to the Court [Dropped by SRA]. Replaced with charge related to ACS:Law's prior data breach of personal details.
The SDT hearing will take place in open court and an official judgement should follow. The tribunal usually announces its decision immediately (findings are released later). Crossley, whom faces a fine and or disbarment, is expected to mount a defence and it will be interesting to see how effective that is.

Last year a similar case against law firm Davenport Lyons (DL) resulted in the SDT upholding several complaints of professional misconduct against two lawyers for knowingly "targeting people innocent of any copyright breach". DL's substantive hearing lasted for seven days but Crossley's looks like it could be a one day job.

Meanwhile Crossley could still appeal to the High Court, assuming the SDT finds against him, and thus drag the case out; this would be difficult for a supposedly bankrupt person to do. The tribunal can also recoup its costs from Crossley, although his bankruptcy status could affect that. More to follow.

UPDATE 11:02am

Crossley only appears to be contesting one of the charges, which relates to a data breach that occurred at the firm during an apparent attempt to restore the ACS:Law website following a Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS) attack (here). This resulted in the firm's dirty laundry and thousands of private ISP customer details being leaked online. The ICO eventually fined him a paltry £800 for the breach because he was bankrupt (here), although to this day that fine has still not been paid.

UPDATE 1:48pm

We're following several information feeds from the court and a decision looks likely before 3pm. One of Slyck's forum members is in the court and notes that the SRA dropped charge 7 (adjusted above) in favour of one related to the firms data breach (mentioned in our previous update).

UPDATE 3:20pm

Andrew Crossley has been suspended for 2 years by the SDT. He will also have to pay costs of more than £76,300.

UPDATE 17th January 2012

An official report from the SDT is expected to follow in due course, although further details from those who were present at the hearing (James Bench of BeingThreatened) is now beginning to emerge. The tribunal is understood to have upheld all of the seven allegations made against Crossley.

During the trial Crossley said that ACS:Law had operated its scheme "with the utmost care and compassion. We did not do this in a brutal manner. It is my responsibility if we get it right… and it is my responsibility if we get it wrong." Few, including the SDT, appeared to agree that the scheme was run with "compassion".

It also emerged that, as principal of the firm, he had sent "over 20,000 letters to unrepresented members of the public" (i.e. speculative invoicing).
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