February 12, 2020

Social Media / Defamation

An Adelaide lawyer has been awarded $750,000 in compensation by way of a defamatory review posted against his practice on Google by an aggrieved and disgruntled individual, who never even utilised his services.  

Barrister Mr Gordon Cheng, described by the Court as a well-respected member of the legal profession, faced an exodus of his client base in late 2018 and early 2019.  Upon further investigation Mr Cheng found the following review had been posted on “Google My Business”.

RE: Gordon Cheng Barristers & Solicitors

Stay clear of this place! Gordon brings shame to all lawyers and is infamous for his lack of professionalism amongst the law society in Adelaide. He is only concerned about how to get most of your money by giving you false and misleading advices, and convincing you to go to Court when it is clear that he doesn’t have a case to win.

The review was posted by Ms Isabel Lok and was also published in Chinese.

Mr Cheng advised the Court by about February 2019 that about 80% of his clients have left his practice.

Mr Cheng lodged a Concerns Notice together with a complaint to Google. Ms Lok then changed her name on the review to “Bel”. Following the service of Mr Cheng’s Summons and Statement of Claim, Ms Lok changed her name once again from “Bel” to “Cindy”.

Despite legal action the review remained posted. Further, Ms Lok published another review under her father’s name in mid-2019 which was succinct and blunt. In full that review read “Bad Lawyer! Not at all reliable”.

Incredibly, Mr Cheng had never met Ms Lok. There had never once been any legal work completed or contact between the two save for the Google reviews.

The Court found with respect to Ms Lok’s actions that “the only conclusion that can be drawn is that her intention was to destroy the Plaintiff’s livelihood, and cause him destress, anxiety and financial hardship”. Further Ms Lok provided no offer of amends, no apology and a blanket refusal to withdraw the review.

The Court ultimately held that Mr Cheng had suffered by way of the defamatory statements in the sum of:-

  • Past economic loss of $300,000;
  • Future economic loss of $100,000;
  • Loss of goodwill of $150,000;
  • General damages of $100,000;
  • Aggravated damages of $100,000;
  • Costs of the action on an indemnity basis.

In this day and age more and more business is being generated and referrals are being received online. Necessarily reviews of products and services are becoming increasingly more important in a digitised world. People can no longer hide under the cover of anonymity when using online services. As can be seen from this case the publishing of nefarious and defamatory comments, even under the guise of review, can lead to hefty and expensive damages and cost consequences through the tort of defamation.

A copy of the decision can be found here.