An employee has been sentenced to six weeks’ imprisonment for breaching a court order intended to preserve evidence pending a trial for breach of confidence.

OCS Group UK Ltd v Dadi and others, High Court

Facts

The defendant, Mr Dadi, had been employed by OCS. His employment transferred under TUPE to a competitor business, Omniserv, when OCS lost an aircraft cleaning contract.

OCS brought a claim against Mr Dadi, Ominserv and others, claiming a breach of confidentiality. It alleged that Mr Dadi had emailed confidential information to his personal email account with the intention of passing this information to Mr Ahitan, a former employee of OCS who now worked for Omniserv. OCS obtained an order for an interim injunction against Mr Dadi, which included a prohibition on disclosing or making any use of OCS’s confidential information and required him to preserve hard copy and electronic documents. It also prohibited him from disclosing the existence of the order or the possibility of proceedings being commenced from anyone else, save his legal advisers.

The court order included the usual warning on the front page that a breach of the order would be a contempt of court and could result in imprisonment. It was served on Mr Dadi by OCS’s lawyer, who explained the importance of the order to him and advised him to seek legal advice.

Immediately after receiving the order, Mr Dadi informed Mr Ahitan and subsequently deleted a large volume of emails in breach of the terms of the order. After taking legal advice, Mr Dadi informed the court of his actions. OCS applied for Mr Dadi to be committed to prison for contempt of court.

High Court decision

The High Court sentenced Mr Dadi to six weeks’ imprisonment for contempt. In his defence, Mr Dadi claimed that he had panicked and only realised the seriousness of the offence after taking legal advice. He also argued that a prison sentence would be ‘disastrous’ for him and would make it difficult for him to find work.

However, the court decided that a sentence of six weeks’ imprisonment was appropriate to mark the court’s strong disapproval of his conduct and to act as a deterrent to others. The breaches had significantly prejudiced OCS’s case and put them to considerable cost in forensic examination of Mr Dadi’s computer in an attempt to retrieve the deleted emails.

Consequences

This decision, although unusual in the context of an employment dispute, serves as useful reminder of the importance of complying with court orders and of the potentially severe penalties for failing to do so. Parties in a legal dispute must not destroy or withhold any documents that are potentially disclosable to the other side, including electronic documents.