In LTE Scientific Ltd v Thomas  EWHC 7 (QB), decided yesterday by Mr Justice Richards and already noted by the All England Direct subscription-only service, Thomas sold his business to LTE on terms which included restrictive covenants. LTE later alleged that Thomas was working for its competitors in breach of those restrictive covenants. LTE obtained disclosure orders against Thomas and his wife which required them to deliver up computers and electronic storage devices so that their contents could be inspected.
In these proceedings LTE alleged that, once Thomas knew about the disclosure order, he (i) deliberately evaded service of the order upon him and (ii) installed a 'scratch' program on his home computer and deleted various relevant files from the hard disk. LTE also complained that Mrs Thomas (i) failed to deliver the computers immediately to the supervising solicitor as required to do by the orders and (ii) failed to provide her husband's mobile phone number. LTE therefore applied to commit the Thomases for contempt of court.
The judge ruled that both Mr and Mrs Thomas were in contempt of court. Thomas' contempt was the more serious since he sought to evade service of the order on him. Further, the loading of the scratch program and its use to delete the relevant files was a deliberate action which he clearly knew to be wrong. That contempt was so serious that committal to prison was an appropriate remedy. As to Mrs Thomas, she was in contempt in failing to deliver up the home computer or to provide her husband's mobile number. Indemnity costs would be awarded against her but she would not be sent to prison.
The IPKat sees this as a salutary reminder of the power of contempt proceedings to concentrate the minds of even the most recalcitrant and uncooperative of litigants.
More on enforcers here, here and here