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Who let the lawyers out?
George Galloway, Issue 1387
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WHAT A TWITTER: George Galloway, whose spokesman claimed the behaviour of the MP’s lawyers was ‘normal practice’
ON HIS own Twitter feed, George Galloway MP insists that retweeting someone else’s comment is “not per se endorsement: sometimes the opposite”. When someone else retweets a comment about him, however, he regards it as an endorsement – and, quite probably, a potential libel.

Hence the blizzard of “letters before action” sent on his behalf in the past fortnight to people who retweeted messages supporting Hadley Freeman, a Guardian columnist whom he is suing. One recipient, as reported in the Times last Saturday, is a charity worker in Yorkshire with just 75 followers on Twitter. While the media focus on Galloway’s bullying manner, however, the behaviour of his solicitors, Messrs Chambers of Bradford, deserves attention too.

Sue, Grabbit and Runne
The letters to tweeters are generic boilerplate, so carelessly copied-and-pasted that the one sent to the male charity worker begins “Dear Miss…” Yet Chambers, aka Sue, Grabbit and Runne, claim that each of these standard letters costs them thousands of pounds to send – and they expect to be reimbursed at once.

After demanding an immediate apology and “significant sums” in damages, they add: "You are also required, by 17.00 on 10 March 2015 to pay to this office our Clients [sic] legal costs which currently stand at £5,000 plus VAT.”

Galloway’s spokesman told the Independent last weekend this was “normal practice” for lawyers. Utter nonsense: even Carter-Fuck never goes that far. A leading litigation solicitor confirms to the Eye that it is “improper” and “not normal practice” to bill a recipient for costs in an initial letter.

‘Speculative invoicing’
Chambers claims it was put to such expense because it had to trace the tweeters’ addresses. Since some would inevitably be easier to find than others, however, it defies rational belief that every separate task would have taken precisely £5,000-worth (plus VAT) of the solicitors’ time. Since Chambers doesn’t give any breakdown of the costs – as it should – there’s no way of telling if it was fair.

The Eye has now drawn the letter to the attention of the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), which takes a dim view of this sort of “speculative invoicing”.

The SRA code of practice says lawyers should provide a third party with “sufficient time and information to enable the costs in any matter to be agreed”, should not take “unfair advantage of an opposing party’s lack of legal knowledge where they have not instructed a lawyer” – and should certainly not be “demanding anything for yourself or on behalf of your client, that is not [at that stage] legally recoverable”, such as demanding “the cost of the letter of claim” at the outset. The main victims of Galloway’s legal bombardment may turn out to be his own solicitors.

PS “All should boycott the drug launderers HSBC,” Galloway tweeted furiously last summer, during a campaign against the bank for its closure of certain Muslim groups’ accounts and its financial involvement with Israel. The account into which Chambers wants tweeters to pay Galloway’s “costs” of £5,000 is, naturally… at HSBC!

More top stories in the latest issue:

RETIRING TYRIE
Tory MP Andrew Tyrie, chair of the Treasury committee, gives HMRC an easy ride for failing to nail tax dodgers. Can an election be looming?

FRAUDIAN SLIP
While wealthy tax dodgers are left alone, the work and pensions department cracks down on benefit cheats – using data collated by the tax man.

PAISLEY PATTERN
How Ian Paisley Jnr and the hardline Democratic Unionist Party could help decide whether it’s Dave or Ed for prime minister this summer.

TRAFFIC FRIGHTS
Why Theresa May opposes independent scrutiny of how well (or not) the UK government helps the victims of human trafficking.

MORE HOT AIR
Ed Miliband calls for a ban on lucrative second jobs for MPs… as he recalls Sunday Mirror columnist John Prescott to advise him on climate change.

HOUSING NEWS
Housing minister Brandon Lewis claims the government has helped 192,000 households become homeowners – but the figures don’t add up.

OPEN PRIMARY?
Ed Miliband’s promise to let the people help choose Labour’s next mayoral candidate in London turns out to be a union-friendly, politburo stitch-up.


To read all these stories in full, you can buy the latest edition of Private Eye - or subscribe here and have the magazine delivered to your home every fortnight.

Next issue on sale:
17th March 2015.
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For all these stories you can buy the magazine or subscribe here and get delivery direct to your home every fortnight.
Next issue on sale: 17th March 2015.

Private Eye Issue 1386
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