Good News From The United Kingdom: Lesley Kemp Prevails Against Censorious Thuggery

Back in April I wrote about Lesley Kemp, a transcriber who was sued for defamation in England when she complained on Twitter about delays in being paid by Resolution Productions and its principal Kirby Kearns. When I wrote Resolution Productions seeking comment, I received a threatening-to-the-best-of-his-limited-abilities email from Barjinder Sahota of Sahota Solicitors who demanded that I "resist and desist" writing bad things about his clients. I responded like me.

Good news today: Ms. Kemp has won and the plaintiff Kirby Kearns has abandoned the field. Kemp was tremendously fortunate to secure pro bono help from Robert Dougans of Bryan Cave and no-win-no-fee help from Jonathan Price of Ely Place Chambers, with support from the Libel Reform Campaign and from censorious-thuggery survivor Simon Singh. Kemp reports that her team backed Kirby Kearns and Sahota off with a clever gambit: since Kirby Kearns is a resident of Qatar, they asked the English court to force him to post a bond to secure costs, which he was unwilling to do:

As Mr Kearns is resident in Qatar, my solicitors applied for an order requiring Mr Kearns to pay money into court as security for my costs of defending the claim. Despite his solicitors threatening me with indemnity costs orders for making this application and saying it was unfounded (although never explaining why), Mr Kearns on 18 November 2013 decided to 'discontinue the claim' 2 weeks from when my application was going to be heard. Mr Kearns explains this decision as being based on being unwilling to pay security for my costs.

Ms. Kemp was unfortunate to be menaced by a such a lawsuit, and unfortunate to be subjected to it in England (which, despite the best efforts of reformers, is still a haven for libel tourism thanks to its pro-plaintiff libel laws), but she's extremely lucky to get such an able team to help her without cost to her. Freedom of expression depends not just on laws and efforts to reform them, but on principled individuals like Mr. Dougans and Mr. Price donating their skills and standing up to contemptible censorship. Freedom of expression also depends upon citizens inflicting social consequences upon the plaintiffs who bring suits like this and the lawyers who represent them. People who bully should be treated like bullies.

Mr. Sahota never wrote me again after my reply to his threat to me. If anyone reading this has been threatened with a defamation suit by Mr. Sahota or his firm, I have been asked to convey that there are solicitors in England who stand ready to represent you for free or on a no-win-no-fee basis, depending on the case.

Stand up against censorship.

Edited to add: Mr. Kearns has released a public statement, which I have uploaded here for your review of his version of events.

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Comments

  1. Anonymous Coward says

    @Dan T. – I think the "no win, no pay" concept is for when these actually go to trial. In that case, after winning the lawyer would try to get paid by suing the losing party for cost of representation.

  2. says

    I started a libel action against Mr Lesley Kemp who runs a transcription business from her
    home

    This is exactly the sort of error that hastily customizing an earlier letter can produce…

  3. Jim Salter says

    Anybody else notice how he says tons about "protecting his reputation" but never once simply says "those tweets weren't true" – or even "those tweets were out of context"?

    Smells to me like he thinks he thinks "libel" == "publishing true facts that I don't want to be published because they make me look bad, and you aren't supposed to make me look bad." I think he might even earnestly believe that.

  4. gramps says

    At least as important, did Ms Kemp get her money?

    OK, I should have chased all the links first. She did get paid as stated in Ken's first post on this matter.

    [slinks off into lurker posture.]

  5. GoSign says

    @Jim Salter:

    He does say "Mrs Kemp refused to concede that what
    she has written was not only untrue but that it was also damaging and defamatory."

    Though I suppose that's still not exactly saying "it isn't true", but rather "she refuses to take it back".

  6. Boxers or Case Briefs says

    Dear Sir and/or Madam,

    What kind of douche signs his own name as "Mr. [Name]"?

    Sincerely,

    Mr. Boxers or Case Briefs

  7. Lagaya1 says

    As much as I love reading your posts for the snark, I really appreciate what you do for people. You're awesome, even if bald. Just wanted to put that on record.

  8. ZarroTsu says

    My decision to discontinue is based primarily on a personal ground which I choose not to make public.

    "It… it was ponies. They came for me in the night. Lead by a steed of darkenedness with the pope's hat like some sort of monkeyer, the wave after wave of shaming was sent. But I stood tall. I fear it is lurking out there… waiting… watching… But I shall not be insult! I am right, no matter what!" [Citation needed]

  9. MrSpkr says

    “However I am issuing this public statement so that no one is under any illusion that my decision to call a halt to this action is in no way an admission that my claim was not valid and proper.”

    So, basically, he's admitting that he decided to dismiss the lawsuit because his claim was groundless?

  10. Harrow says

    Waah! This action was supposed to cost Ms. Kemp more than she could afford. No fair making it cost me more than I can afford! Boo-hoo, sob. Waah!

  11. jdgalt says

    The best part is this double negative, which winds up admitting exactly what he apparently intended it to deny.

    However I am issuing this public statement so that no one is under any illusion that my decision to call a halt to this action is in no way an admission that my claim was not valid and proper.

    If this man had proceeded with the case and written his own legal pleadings he could very well have given away the store the same way!

  12. Suedeo says

    I just want to ensure that no one is under the illusion that the "Popehat Signal" in no way deserves its own website.

    By the way, what social consequences, if any, should Lesley Kemp (or anyone, really) pay for Twitter-shaming her contracted employer regarding an admitted late payment for services?

  13. norahc says

    @Suedeo

    Ummm….none? From what I understand when she wrote the tweets they were accurate, and when the circumstances changed she tweeted that as well.

  14. W S Huff says

    "However I am issuing this public statement so that no one is under any illusion that my decision to call a halt to this action is in no way an admission that my claim was not valid and proper."

    Thanks to those above who commented on this comment. I read it and my brain started doing an Inigo Montoya: "I do not think that means what he thinks it means." Thanks for confirming.

  15. Fasolt says

    "I hope people will not see this as some kind of victory for any side – it is not. The court has made no ruling on the facts or given any judgment as to who is right and who is wrong."

    Hate to pop your bubble there, KK, but that is a victory for Ms. Kemp. And while no court ruled on the matter, the fact you gave up the case, and wisely so I might add, shows your claims had no merit. If I believed I was right, I'd take my case to court, even if I had to put a bond up front. Perhaps my reputation means more to me than yours does to you. You should have considered your reputation before you became the latest victim of the Streisand Effect.

  16. dw says

    Unfortnately, the story has a bittersweet postcript:

    Mrs Kemp said she regretted posting the tweet which sparked the dispute. "In hindsight I would have probably have written off such a small amount of money, but I was broke and I was stressed," she said. "My advice is to exhaust every avenue before you start tweeting about stuff."

  17. Sherry in Oregon says

    Three cheers for Lesley …. this opponent is obviously a bully & someone who has exposed this for all others to see. Anyone who may consider doing business with this person: take note!!!!

  18. Jep says

    Unless the court orders otherwise, a claimant who discontinues his claim is liable for the costs which the defendant incurred on or before the date of service of the notice of discontinuance. Lesley Kemp's costs should therefore be theoretically recoverable (I think so at least, though even if they are, enforcing a costs order in Qatar would probably not be fun).

  19. James says

    Question from a legal know-nothing about this bit of the guy's letter/press release:

    The decision to take legal action was not taken lightly but was done only as a last resort when Mrs Kemp refused to concede that what she has written was not only untrue but that it was also damaging and defamatory.

    Was his initial contact with Mrs Kemp really "admit you've libelled me and I won't sue"?

    And if so, had Mrs Kemp admitted, whether publicly or in private correspondence, that what she wrote was "untrue…damaging and defamatory" wouldn't that immediately increase his chances of winning any suit by about a million percent?

  20. Matthew Cline says

    And if so, had Mrs Kemp admitted, whether publicly or in private correspondence, that what she wrote was "untrue…damaging and defamatory" wouldn't that immediately increase his chances of winning any suit by about a million percent?

    Yeah, that's what I was wondering. It's like a cop telling a suspect "we'll let you go if you just admit you're guilty".

  21. Suedeo says

    norahc,

    Her statements may very well be true, but flawed and godless as I am, I do believe that at least once in my life I missed a payment duly owed to some person or company, and then, even though I was late in paying, I kinda stalled and dodged a little because I just didn't have the money at that time. Embarrassing to admit, I can assure you… but I'm sure you've never had any experience like this so I'll go on.

    As soon as I got paid, I wrote a bunch of checks, and probably got dinged with some kinda bullshit fees on top, but I felt better, and hopefully they felt better, and when that day ended and those checks cleared, I still had a relationship with those people. I guess I'm lucky that those whom I owed forgot to use one of the world's newest and most powerful global communications platforms to punish and who knows, perhaps even crush and destroy me for being late.

    I honestly think that "twitter shaming" someone over smallish mercantile stuff is excessive and perhaps irresponsible, and that's my opposing view for today!

  22. Sacho says

    Are you seriously comparing "twitter shaming", where the defense to the complaint costs as much as replying to the tweets(that is, zero), with an ACTUAL LAWSUIT, where the cost of the defense, even with right on your side, is ridiculous both in time and in money?

  23. Suedeo says

    Well, they're both reactionary, lame methods to address a dispute, and both are "not illegal", and I do believe both parties wish they'd done something else instead.

    I'm not trying to compare them to one another as much as put myself in the shoes of the other guy.

  24. andrews says

    Unless the court orders otherwise, a claimant who discontinues his claim is liable for the costs which the defendant incurred on or before the date of service of the notice of discontinuance.

    In Florida, the statute requiring foreign plaintiffs to post a bond requires a ridiculously small bond. However, enforcement is optional. So long as you give the requisite notice, the atty can be held jointly and severally liable, up to the statutory amount, for the fees and costs.

    I should mention that the statutory amount is $100.00, which probably seemed adequate in 1828.

    The alternative remedy is dismissal. I once had a pretty good lawyer on the other side argue that the statute should not be enforced to require dismissal of the action because the statute was so old and the amount so small. He was just covering the case, and that was all he had. Creative, but not so successful.

  25. Loverat says

    A good result with the right outcome. The case never really stood a chance. The courts are a little better nowadays at protecting free speech and providing protection against vexatious litigation.

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