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Defamatory reviews

Online reviews are regularly used by potential consumers prior to purchasing a product or using a service. The negative or positive assessment of another customer’s experience can be helpful to others. However, a case this year has served to highlight the potential risk of leaving a review, which in this case was deemed to be defamatory. In Summerfield Browne v Waymouth, Mr Waymouth hired Summerfield Browne to represent him in a dispute concerning the enforcement of a court order. In a post on the review website Trustpilot Mr Waymouth said that the firm were “a total waste of money” and “another scam solicitor”. Summerfield Browne pursued legal action, and alleged that the defendant’s comments were untrue, defamatory and had led to a decline in business. Ruling in favour of the firm, Master Cook said it was “beyond any dispute that the words complained of had a clear tendency to put people off dealing with the claimant firm”. Summerfield Browne was awarded the sum of £25,000 in damages and a permanent injunction restraining Mr Waymouth from re-publishing his review. Trustpilot was also ordered to remove the review on the basis that Mr Waymouth was unlikely to do so himself.

Fake reviews

Businesses may also wish to be aware of the potential implications of posting or hosting fake reviews that could mislead consumers. At present, the Competition and Markets Authority is undertaking a formal probe into Amazon and Google over concerns that they have not taken sufficient action to combat fake reviews on their site. One suggestion unveiled in the recent consultation on Reforming Competition and Consumer Policy is to make it automatically illegal for firms to pay someone to write, or host a fake review. The Government is considering several options for non-compliance with the proposed reforms, including providing the Competition and Markets Authority the power to issue financial penalties.
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