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By: MarkJ - 18 January, 2011 (11:01 AM)
p2p lawACS:Law (Andrew Crossley), the notorious UK intellectual property solicitors firm, which still hasn't got its website back online after months of downtime and specialises in harassing broadband ISP customers whom it "suspects" of involvement with "illegal" (actually it's unlawful) copyright P2P file sharing, could have lost several more attempts to sue 27 individuals through an intermediary (MediaCAT) for damages.

The firm, which is currently awaiting a Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) for its "bullying" settlement letters, normally makes its money through "speculative invoicing" but last month lost in its attempt to sue 8 people in the London Patents County Court (here).

The firm typically threatens ISP customers with letters accusing them of copyright infringement, before demanding hundreds of pounds in settlement fees. Court action is threatened against those who don't comply. However in reality the high costs of a court case, plus the fact that such trials rarely succeed, usually makes this outcome highly unlikely.

According to TorrentFreak, Judge Birss QC recently ordered a hearing to investigate 27 of ACS:Law's other cases because of their "unusual features". In an attempt to avoid this it appears as if ACS:Law simply decided to drop the cases, without correct authorisation. So, with defence lawyers seeking costs and Andrew Crossley himself not turning up due to a "family car accident", Birss refused to accept the discontinuation.

It has since emerged that ACS:Law claim to have instructed MediaCAT to seek an adjournment instead, allowing the firm time to correct errors in its evidence. The plan was thus to re-file the cases at a later date, which Judge Birss described as "unprecedented in his personal experience and career at the bar." At this point one of the 27 cases was dropped at the judge's discretion.

Birss warned ACS:Law that re-filing cases would give the firm an unfair advantage. In addition, defence lawyers cited the recent Solicitors Regulatory Authority (RSA) investigation, which claimed that Crossley was involved in a "champertous agreement" and had thus, apparently, breached the Solicitors’ Code of Conduct. Information highlighting the agreement between MediaCAT and Sheptonhurst was produced.

What is a champertous agreement?

A proceeding by which a person not a party in a suit bargains to aid in or carry on its prosecution or defense in consideration of a share of the matter in suit.

As a result of this and other oddities it's easy to see why the Judge chose not to simply let ACS:Law drop the cases. A new hearing for the remaining 26 cases has been set for 26th 24th January 2011, while another will be needed to tackle the procedural issues that have so clearly arisen.

UPDATE 20th January 2011

It's also recently emerged that a company called GCB Limited has been handed responsibility for collecting ACS:Law's out-of-court settlement payments. However the Kent-based accountants to which GCB's address is registered, McLean Reid, claim that this constitutes "misused by some third party".

That third party turns out to be an associate of Andrew Crossley, David Fisher, whom is alleged to be taking steps to ensure that any money is now repaid and claims to have been unaware of the misuse. However PC Pro has uncovered that the actual payments, directed to be made out to GCB, were actually being sent to the address of a firm called Regus.

Interestingly the Regus office address was rented by Jonathan Miller, an employee of ACS:Law. However Andrew Crossley is now denying involvement: "That’s being stopped. I’m not involved in that - GCB’s nothing to do with me. But I know… they’ve informed me that they’ve stopped doing it," he said.

Make of that what you will.
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