Michael and others v Phillips and others  EWHC 1084 (QB) is a recently reported case involving skulduggery within the Romford Minicab community.
The parties were involved in a sale and purchase of a minicab business. All went sour and the claimants brought several claims, largely based in breach of contract, against the defendants.
One of the most important features of litigation is the obligation on contesting parties to give full disclosure. Broadly this means that each side must provide the other with a list (and then copies) of all documents which are material to the matters in issue, regardless of whether such disclosure harms the case of the discloser. The rules cover also the disclosure of data.
It goes without saying (or should) that a corollary of the disclosure obligation is a requirement that parties neither deliberately destroy/conceal documents/data nor are complicit in their “loss”. In fact, there is a further obligation placed on parties and that is positively to protect documents/data once a claim is intimated.
In the case before the High Court, it turned out that the defendants twisted and turned at every stage, right down to providing disclosure by means of a data stick which just happened to contain no data at all. The defendants did not appear to have reckoned with the dogged persistence of the claimants’ solicitors who continually pressed for full and accurate disclosure.
In the end, those solicitors initiated a procedure for asking the High Court to strike out the defences filed and debar the defendants from taking part in the trial. They obtained an “unless order” – unless the defendants disclosed the documents requested by a specific time and date they should be debarred. The claimants were successful. The order came fully into effect when the defendants failed to comply. The order made (for failing to comply with the unless order and for destroying and concealing documents) “debarred the defendants from defending the claims herein"
The defendants then argued that, although prevented from denying liability, the debarring order was limited to preventing them from defending the claims but should not prevent them from being represented at trial on the issue of quantum – the assessment of the amount of compensation that should be awarded.
No, said the judge. Debarring in these circumstances meant that the defendants were to play no further part in the proceedings.
The case serves as a warning of the consequences of non-compliance. Courts have, over recent years, become increasingly strict about enforcing their orders.