The recent High Court case of OCS Group Ltd v Dadi has provided an example of the serious consequences that can be faced where a party to legal proceedings acts in breach of orders of the court.
In this particular case, the High Court granted an interim injunction against an ex-employee (the defendant), prohibiting him from disclosing confidential information belonging to his former employer. The order also included a requirement that he preserve hard copy and electronic documents, provide information about disclosures already made and that he should not inform anyone of the existence of the order apart from his legal advisers. Shortly after being served, the defendant acted in breach by deleting over 8,000 emails and informing members of his family, friends and his former manager of the existence of the order.
Despite the defendant admitting the breaches and trying to assist his ex-employer in retrieving the deleted material, the High Court imposed a 6 week prison sentence for breaching the terms of the interim injunction as a deterrent and a warning to others.
This case should also serve as a reminder that similar rules apply to employment tribunal proceedings. If a party before an employment tribunal is found to be in contempt of court, the matter can be referred to the Divisional Court which has the power to impose a prison sentence. In one particular employment tribunal case, an ex-employee of a firm of solicitors brought a claim for constructive dismissal. In the course of the proceedings, the ex-employee was found to have been involved with the interference of witnesses including implied threats and bribes. The matter was referred to the Divisional Court which imposed a prison sentence of one month.
Employment Tribunals may also issue orders in the course of proceedings, including case management orders. These orders can, for example, require the parties to carry out certain actions by certain dates, such as, disclosure of documents or exchange of witness statements. The Employment Tribunal Rules stipulate that any person who, without reasonable excuse, fails to comply with such orders, is guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £1000.
While the incidence of such cases arising out of employment tribunals is relatively rare, the recent High Court case does also highlight the fact that the possibility does exist that actions in contempt of court and breaches of orders in the employment tribunal could attract serious sanctions up to and including imprisonment.