To the point...
Stepford Homes Ltd v Lee & Ors (2012)
- Commercial litigation
- High Court, Chancery Division
A property developer (C) had issued a claim and brought an application both seeking injunctive relief to prevent a competitor (D3) from acquiring an interest in development land that it claimed had only been brought to D3's attention by two individuals (D1 & D4), who at the time had been employees of C, in breach of duties owed by D1 & D4 to C as their employer. The application also sought access by C's experts to the computers and phones of all the Ds. The position had been preserved by a consent order made by Mann J in October 2011 in which all the parties had undertaken not to pursue acquiring any interest in the land in question until the matter could come back before the court. At this point D1 (and his new company D2) had offered permanent undertakings not to deal with the site and shortly thereafter D3 had renounced all interest in the sight and similarly offered undertakings. C had refused to accept these and in any event made it clear it intended to pursue its application for access to the electronic data irrespective of the undertakings. Considerable further costs were incurred on both sides, including expert forensic examination of D4's electronic devices to which he had agreed to give C access. On the return date, in opening, C accepted that the undertakings would suffice and that it did not intend to pursue the injunctive relief for electronic searches. That only left costs as a live issue.
The court held that, in failing to notify that D1-D3 that the undertakings would be acceptable and that it was no longer pursuing the search orders, C's conduct was deplorable. It was clear that D1-D3 had done everything reasonable to bring these now unnecessary proceedings to a conclusion; C's decision to press on regardless on the basis that it was entitled to vindicate its right to costs was unattractive and not in the spirit of the Woolf report, especially where its own pleaded case against D3 had been weak in the extreme, if not demurrable. The court ordered that the initial costs of the injunction application be in the case, down to the point where Ds had offered full undertakings (late October in D1/D2's case; very early November in the case of D3). Thereafter, he ordered C to pay all Ds' wasted costs, from 16/12/11 onwards on the indemnity basis.
Alaric Watson represented the third defendant.