A legal firm acting for Respect MP George Galloway will be reported to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), it has emerged.
The development comes as a number of people reported receiving letters written by Chambers Solicitors acting on behalf of Galloway, demanding up to £5,000 libel costs + VAT and requesting public apologies for allegedly calling him anti-semitic.
As the letters began to arrive, a Twitter account was set up to offer free legal advice for the recipients – which has since gained the backing of several high profile lawyers including solicitor and libel expert Mark Stephens and Mark Lewis.
Lewis, who was a leading figure in the News of the World hacking scandal confirmed to the Huffington Post UK that he would be making a complaint to the SRA on behalf of three clients on Wednesday.
Informing Legal Cheek the costs demanded in the letters “could never be justified”, he said: “A lawyer’s duty is to stand up for people who cannot otherwise defend themselves from very threatening demands. Mr Galloway’s solicitors claimed £5,000 plus VAT for standard letters on top of damages. That is horrific and brings the solicitor’s profession into disrepute.
“Mr Galloway’s spokesman says that the letters weren’t shown to the client before they were sent. This is a matter of practice and the SRA must investigate.”
In an earlier conversation with HuffPost UK, Lewis added: “By all means defend a reputation where it is proper to do so but do not go back to the days of chilling people from speaking out.”
One letter recipient told the newspaper: “I did it out of solidarity with a fellow Jewish woman. I haven’t slept properly since receiving the letter. It was intimidatory. I suffer from anxiety.
“This is really upsetting. It’s like parking companies sending letters out in the hope of getting money. When Lord McAlpine sued people on Twitter he only asked for £50 to be given to charity.”
A spokesman for Galloway told HuffPost UK: “There’s nothing to say. It’s a matter between the solicitors, it’s nothing to do with George.”
Galloway on Question Time last month
Bradford-based Chambers Solicitors have declined to comment on the matter.
Robert Loughlin, SRA Executive Director, told HuffPost UK: “Now that we are aware of the matter, we will be looking to obtain all necessary information before deciding on the appropriate course of action.”
The code of conduct as listed on the SRA website lists a chapter about relations with third parties.
It states: “This… is about ensuring you do not take unfair advantage of those you deal with and that you act in a manner which promotes the proper operation of the legal system.”
Specifically it impresses: “You do not take unfair advantage of third parties in either your professional or personal capacity.”
Points which may show a body has not complied with the code include:
IB (11.7) taking unfair advantage of an opposing party’s lack of legal knowledge where they have not instructed a lawyer.
IB (11.8) demanding anything for yourself or on behalf of your client that is not legally recoverable, such as when you are instructed to collect a simple debt, demanding from the debtor the cost of the letter of claim since it cannot be said that that stage that such a cost is legally recoverable.
Galloway - a staunch critic of Israel - was roundly heckled during the show, which was filmed in Finchley, North London, known as a Jewish area.
The final questioner implied the Respect MP - who last year declared Bradford an "Israel-free zone" - had contributed to an anti-semitic fervor in the UK, an allegation he has strongly denied.
Galloway rejected the claims on air and in the aftermath of the show wrote a blog claiming the audience selection was “laughably biased”.
During a Twitter conversation a few days later Guardian writer Hadley Freeman also accused Galloway of blurring the line between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism.
The tweet, which was later deleted, lead to the following exchange:
On Wednesday former Tory MP Louise Mensch also revealed she had been contacted by Chambers Solicitors, though apparently not on behalf of Galloway.
She tweeted: "I can confirm I have received a letter before action from Alias Yousaf of Chambers Solicitors, to which my lawyers have replied.
"Readers will not I have not deleted my tweets on the matter. Subject to representations, I will be reporting further on Friday."
The letter Mensch received is said to threaten legal action for an allegedly libellous comment made on Twitter about a different subject, The Times reports. Yousaf is a solicitor at the firm and a close associate of Galloway, the newspaper adds.
Galloway is well-known for his outspoken views. Footage emerged last month showing him condemning the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo for producing “pornographic, obscene insults” against the Prophet Muhammad.