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£1,000 fine for barrister who misled Google in review take down request

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Blames ‘online trolling’

A barrister has been reprimanded and fined for making a “misleading statement” in a bid to have a negative review about himself removed from the internet.

Philip Harmer, an unregistered barrister, “knowingly made a misleading statement” to Google on a review deletion request form, according to a decision published by the Bar Tribunals & Adjudication Service (BTAS).

Harmer claimed he had no communication with the reviewer despite having previously exchanged letters and telephone calls.

The tribunal found that Harmer had behaved in a way which was likely to diminish the trust and confidence which the public places in barristers.

According to the disciplinary panel, the barrister also conducted litigation, a reserved legal activity, when he was not entitled to do so under the Legal Services Act. Harmer caused or allowed his name and address to be provided as the address for a claimant on a claim form issued in the county court, and filed and served a witness statement with the county court on behalf of the claimant.

Harmer was reprimanded and fined £1,000.

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In a statement, Harmer said: “On 24 September 2020, I admitted before a tribunal of the BTAS, that I had breached the BSB handbook. In 2018, I was subjected to distressing online trolling by my client’s litigation adversary. I asked Google to remove this calumnious material, but in doing so, I sent an inaccurate email to Google. It was inaccurate to say that I had not had past communications with the troll. For this inaccuracy on my part, I was reprimanded by the tribunal and fined £1,000. The tribunal accepted counsel’s plea in mitigation that I acted when provoked.”

He continued: “I also admitted that I put my name on a claim form as a forwarding address and sent a single email to a court. These two acts in 2018, some five months apart, were regarded as the, “conduct of litigation”. These were treated as technical infringements of the BSB code and I was reprimanded. The BSB accepted that I had not committed any criminal offence under the Legal Services Act 2007. An allegation of dishonesty towards Google was dismissed.”

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