There was a furore last week about a couple who stayed in a Blackpool Hotel which turned out to be less than satisfactory.
Tony and Jan Jenkinson of Whitehaven took to the Trip Advisor website and described The Broadway Hotel as a “filthy rotten dirty stinking hovel run by muppets”.
You might support such freedom of speech, but the owners of the hotel felt differently and without the express permission of Mr and Mrs Jenkinson levied a surcharge of £100 on their credit card.
When the Jenkinsons complained, the hotel sought to rely on a clause buried in the terms and conditions that any negative reviews posted would be liable to such a charge.
The legal position is clear. Under the Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977 it is not permissible to impose a contractual term on a party which is inherently unfair.
So the Jenkinsons were well within their legal rights to demand that the £100 be repaid to them and indeed it has been.
The case raises wider issues about the power of online review sites and also the potential risks of saying something less than complimentary. Hoteliers who are exasperated with the tyranny of online reviews can take comfort that anyone who makes a statement that is malicious or false is at risk of a claim for damages; and those publishing a malicious falsehood (i.e. the online review site itself) may also be liable for the words of their contributors.
This is the law of libel, which is expensive to get involved in.
So the moral of the story is if you are inclined to make comments online or elsewhere make sure you have the evidence to back up what you say perhaps by way of photographs or video footage.
I am glad the Jenkinsons were refunded their £100. But let’s not forget they paid just £36.00 for bed and breakfast and you may say you get what you pay for. The same of course applies to legal services.
All of which made me ponder that maybe an online review forum for legal services would be no bad thing. And imagine all those solicitors burning the midnight oil scrutinising postings for any malicious falsehoods.