Previously on this blog, I have repeatedly – some have said “obsessively” – expressed my doubts about the propriety and indeed morality of grifting large sums of money from understandably outraged but ill-informed members of the public to pursue (sometimes vaguely specified) legal claims of questionable legal merit. And the principal focus of my scribblings has been the fox-battering but mermaids-loving Jolyon Maugham and his (Not Very) Good Law Project, who since 2017 have leveraged Maugham’s “strong presence on social media” to rake in some £4.6 million through no fewer than 53 Crowdjustice crowdfunders – and at least another £6.5 million in direct donations – without achieving very much for the public good. But a recently-launched crowdfunder has achieved the remarkable feat of making Jolyon look like a wise and well-balanced man living his (good) values on behalf of us all.
On 20 December 2022, Dr Louise Raw – a lefty historian – launched a GoFundMe crowdfunder, with a modest target of £15,000, to fund legal action against Jeremy Clarkson, the Sun newspaper and its editor in respect of a typically puerile and offensive column by Clarkson published by the Sun four days previously. The Good Doctor already had “a team of lawyers to review the case”, but if there was any money left over after paying their fees it would be donated to “a domestic violence charity”.
Within 48 hours, the crowdfunder had raked in £11,515 from 192 outraged donors, with a stonking £8,500 (74%) of that total having been pledged by just three wealthy citizens (two of them anonymously). It turns out rich, privileged people have their uses after all. And by Christmas Day the total had reached £13,209.
However, by then the barrister and award-winning legal blogger Matthew Scott had kindly provided the Good Doctor with all the legal advice that she (and prospective donors) needed. For free! In a nutshell, while Clarkson’s column of 16 December “was a horrible piece that should have been strangled at birth [and] quite rightly generated thousands of complaints”, there is no realistic prospect of either a civil claim or a private criminal prosecution succeeding, and the Good Doctor would simply expose herself to the risk of substantial adverse costs. In Scott’s words:
Any competent lawyer will be bound to advise Dr Raw that she would be exceptionally unwise to bring a case against Mr Clarkson. The chances of success are tiny, the risks [in terms of adverse costs] are huge. It should not cost them £15,000 to tell her that.
At that point, the Good Doctor should have swallowed her pride, and donated the £13.2K to a domestic violence charity of her choice. Jeremy Clarkson and the Sun would not have been ‘held to account’, but £13.2K would have been redistributed from people with money to burn – three of them with a fuck of a lot of money to burn – to victims of domestic violence. Viva la revolution!
But, of course, the Good Doctor did not swallow her pride. The free legal advice provided by Matthew Scott and others was just “predictable trolling by bad faith actors”, and “pessimists can’t shake us”. Root out hatred, stay optimistic! In any case, “every penny goes to a domestic violence charity if not used for the legal case”. So that’s all right then.
However, in bad news for that (unnamed) domestic violence charity, on 11 January the Good Doctor announced that she had started spending the £13,922 she had by then garnered from 367 well-intentioned but evidently ill-informed donors, by instructing not one but two law firms to pursue Clarkson. On “the civil side”, Equal Justice Solicitors have been instructed to “obtain advice” from Cloisters Chambers. And, on “the criminal side”, Waterfords Solicitors have been instructed to … er, do something or other. Maybe ‘read Matthew Scott’s blog’.
As it happens, Waterfords Solicitors have experience in this field. In June 2020, Mahsa Taliefar – a photogenic law student – launched a GoFundMe crowdfunder on behalf of Aaron Soni – the “always there” but less photogenic owner of Waterfords Solicitors – aimed at “exploring avenues leading to the prosecution of Dominic Cummings” for his (unlawful) round trip from London to Durham in March. Funnily enough, Waterfords Solicitors were promptly instructed but, naturally, if any funds were left over after “prosecuting Dominic Cummings and holding him to account” they would be donated to the charity Vision Aid Overseas (since renamed Vision Action).
Taliefar’s crowdfunder raked in a total of £42,783 from some 2,500 donors, but it is not clear how much of that £42.8K was spent on (a) the preliminary legal advice by Ben Douglas-Jones KC (since deleted) and the contradictory “updated advice” from Douglas-Jones and Nathaniel Rudolf (now also KC) in July 2020 that “a private prosecution under the The Health Protection (Coronavirus) Regulations 2020 is not possible”; (b) the legal fees of Waterfords Solicitors in respect of their 50-page final advice in March 2021 that there probably wasn’t a sound legal basis for Taliefar to proceed with a private prosecution of Cummings for the common law offence of Misconduct in Public Office; and (c) the 28-page Digital Forensics report (see pp 68-95) that Waterfords commissioned from Tahir Butt of Digital Investigations Limited, and how much was donated to Vision Aid Overseas/Vision Action.
Whatever, as predicted by one Matthew Scott in July 2020, the crowdfunder did not lead to any civil claim or private prosecution of Dominic Cummings by Mahsa Taliefar. (There were other, similarly crowdfunded attempts to ‘hold Dominic Cummings to account’, including an attempted judicial review of the Director of Public Prosecution’s decision not to investigate Cummings, funded by a Crowdjustice crowdfunder launched by Martin Redston, that was thrown out by the High Court in November 2020).
Back to the present, and total donations to the Good Doctor Raw’s crowdfunder have now passed £14K. Well done, Janet Rees (£25), Mary McCarthy (£25), Shaun O’Connor (£10), and Richard Bush (£10) for rooting out hatred and staying optimistic. And maybe one day we’ll find out how much of the £14K was blown on legal fees (and digital forensics reports), and how much was donated to a domestic violence charity. Watch this space.
Raw, huh, yeah
What is she good for?
Absolutely nothing, uhh
Say it, say it, say it
Raw (uh-huh), huh (yeah, huh)
What is she good for?
Absolutely nothing, listen to Matthew Scott
Update, 3 February: Yesterday, having raked in just £310 from 15 small donations since Doctor Raw announced her illustrious legal team on 11 January, the crowdfunder finally hit its £15,000 initial target, thanks to a stonking £733 anonymous donation from yet another comfortably off citizen imbued with optimism.
Update, 13 February: In further bad news for that (still unnamed) domestic violence charity, a “first tranche of funds” has now been released from GoFundMe to Equal Justice Solicitors, who have sent a “brief” to Tom Coghlin KC of Cloisters Chambers, to whom a tranche of funds may presumably be released in due course. However, in what could prove to be bad news for Waterfords Solicitors, work on “the Criminal side” has been paused, “at least for the time being”.
Update, 24 May: After three months of silence, at 10:25pm on Sunday 21 May, the Good Doctor Raw quietly announced on Twitter that, having “received and digested” the Opinion of Tom Coghlin KC of Cloisters Chambers – not to be confused with Tom Coughlin KC, whoever he is – she is now “on the road to try to get a change in the law”. And a long, rambling update to the crowdfunder on 22 May suggests that, if Meghan Markle cannot be persuaded to join a group action, Doctor Raw and her supporters will “push back against the far right sexist and racist elements in our society” by erecting a statue of Meghan and Harry. Or something. Suffice to say, it does not look as if a civil or criminal prosecution of Jeremy Clarkson by Doctor Raw is on the cards. Who’d a thunk it?
There is no indication of how much of the £15,335 raked in to date has gone on the legal fees of Tom Coghlin KC and Equal Justice Solicitors, and no mention of a domestic violence charity. But if you donated, and if you now instruct a solicitor and send “a letter before claim” to Clarkson and The Sun, then Equal Justice Solicitors will share Tom Coghlin KC’s advice with your solicitor “to protect privilege”. So, bung the Good Doctor another £20, and find yourself a solicitor.