Committal Proceedings For Failure to Deliver-Up Computer Equipment
Quantum Tuning Ltd v Sam White [2019] EWHC 1376 (QB) is an important High Court judgment for employers as it reiterates in the strongest possible terms how seriously Courts regard flagrant non-compliance of Court Orders.

Committal proceedings are not common, and reported cases tend to be those where there has been a deliberate failure to disclose key documents in high value financial services litigation, rather than physical items as these proceedings concerned.  They are arguably a last resort for an employer trying to ascertain the existence of confidential material which is then thwarted by a former employee.

In an age where vast amounts of data can be easily hidden (e.g. in the cloud, on memory sticks or on virtual computers) for some individuals non-compliance with a Court Order for delivery-up may be worth the risk, notwithstanding the rather stark penal notice that accompanies these types of Orders.

The case is also of interest for reasons that social media evidence played an important part in the proceedings.

In May 2018 the Claimant (one of the UK’s leading  vehicle tuning/remapping companies), obtained an ex-parte Court Order against the Defendant to deliver-up his computer equipment. The Claimant had evidence to suspect the Defendant had stolen its database of vehicle engine tuning files (“VET files”) which it believed the Defendant was using for competitive purposes.

This was the second time such an Order had been obtained against the Defendant. On the first occasion back in 2016 the Defendant was still employed by the Claimant. The upshot of those proceedings was that the Defendant admitted stealing a small number of VET files; however no evidence that he had stolen the Claimant’s entire database of VET files could be found on the computers delivered-up by him pursuant to that Order. Those proceedings were then stayed; the Claimant was summarily dismissed, and he warranted (and undertook) that he had returned/deleted the Claimant’s VET files.  

On this second occasion, following delivery-up, the Claimant didn’t believe the Defendant had handed over all his business related computers, despite sworn affidavits by the Defendant to the contrary. So, over the next few months the Claimant set about trying to prove otherwise.

The Defendant was an avid user of social media for his newly established business. He used both Facebook and Instagram to post ad-hoc photos of various laptop computers. Some postings contained photos of computers which the Claimant believed had not been delivered-up. One of the useful features of social media postings is that they are often dated and, in some case, metadata can be captured depending on which platform is involved.

Following a three day committal proceedings hearing (i.e. non-compliance with the Court’s Order for delivery-up) the Claimant was found by the Judge (to the criminal standard of proof which is required in committal proceedings) not to have delivered-up two computers.

The Defendant was sentenced to 7 months imprisonment suspended for 28 days. Over the next month the Defendant has an opportunity to purge his contempt (thereby reducing his sentence) by explaining to the Court’s satisfaction the whereabouts of the missing computers.
The writer acted for the Claimant in these proceedings together with James Ramsden QC of 39 Essex Street Chambers.
CONTACT: Christopher Filor
EMAIL: cfilor@filorsolicitors.co.uk   TELEPHONE: 01647 231475
MOBILE: 07891 055856   www.filorsolicitors.co.uk
This publication is not intended to provide legal or other professional advice and should not be relied upon as such. Readers should take legal advice before applying the information contained in this briefing.
You are receiving this email because you are subscribed to the Filor Solicitors mailing list.
If you have received this email in error, please accept our apologies.
If you do not wish to receive further emails from us, please click here to unsubscribe.
If you cannot see this email, please click here for the web version.