Well, this one's bizarre. Back in March 2010 we wrote about the UK Usenet aggregator Newzbin being found liable for the copyright infringment of its users. A year later, the ISP BT was ordered to block access to Newzbin2, its successor. What amounted to the UK's first Internet censorship order was upheld soon afterwards.
That on its own would make the Newzbin saga noteworthy; but it turns out that there's an extra twist to the story -- involving the lawyer who represented the site:
Mr Harris, an intellectual property lawyer, used an anonymous account to post a series of insulting messages while defending a website which allowed users to download films illegally. It later transpired that Mr Harris, 52, owned the website.
As that notes, his interest in Newzbin was not purely professional -- he owned it:
During the trial he bragged online that “whoring and drinking” would begin at the end of the case and described an opposing lawyer as a “p----”.
He was forced to stand down eight days into the hearing when his link to the firm was discovered by opposing law firm Wiggins, which uncovered documents showing that all of the company’s shares were in his name.
Perhaps insulting his opponent was not such a clever move.
In the official record of the first trial, we find the following:
Mr Harris, instructed on a direct access basis, originally appeared on behalf of the defendant. On 10 February 2010, after the close of evidence, the defendant sought an adjournment in order to instruct solicitors and new counsel because it had become apparent that Mr Harris had acquired shares in the defendant and because he did not feel able to represent the defendant in the light of the way the case had developed and the evidence which had emerged. For the reasons which I gave in a short judgment on that day, I allowed that application. Kirwans Solicitors and Ms Lambert were instructed shortly thereafter and the trial resumed on 2 March 2010.
Harris's anonymous comments, and the fact that he failed to reveal his direct interest in the case, had one direct consequence: he was struck off (he now describes himself as an "ex-barrister" on the Twitter account he used to post the offending comments.) But it's possible his actions had even wider ramifications.
As the quotation from the court record above indicates, halfway through the case, Harris stepped down from defending Newzbin, and was replaced by another lawyer at short notice, Ms. Lambert. This meant she had relatively little time to research the case, which probably put her at a disadvantage compared to the opposing lawyer. Had she been working on it from the beginning, perhaps the Newzbin case and UK legal history would both have taken a very different turn.
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