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Category Archives: Business law

Can Sir Philip Green suppress media interest in his ‘banter’?

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So it was just banter. That is how British entrepreneur Sir Philip Green is defending his behaviour towards employees – and presumably defending his right to keep his behaviour secret with the full weight of a permanent High Court injunction. But hasn’t his statement to the Mail on Sunday (“There has obviously from time to time been some banter, but as far as I’m concerned that’s never been offensive”) rather undermined his case for such an injunction?

The essence of the case is that his behaviour, as covered by non-disclosure agreements with alleged victims, is a private matter. It comes within the English Common Law “equitable doctrine of confidence”, that is to say confidentiality, particularly applicable to the relationship between employer and employee. “The doctrine serves the public interest by encouraging trust, candour and good faith in legal relationships,” as Mr Justice Haddon-Cave expressed it in the original High Court injunction case (which Green and two associated companies lost).

One has to ask, of course, whether Sir Philip’s “banter”, was likely to encourage “trust, candour and good faith” with his employees. He insists: “I’ve got a good relationship with all my staff” – though some would seem to disagree. But the legal point is that Green and his lawyers have to establish the issue as one of confidentiality/privacy since that is the only way they can exercise power over the media to bar publication. This is the reason for his rather carefully worded (and hence rather odd) statement when his name was revealed in the House of Lords by Peter Hain:

“to the extent that it is suggested that I have been guilty of unlawful sexual or racist behaviour, I categorically and wholly deny these allegations”.   

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Neuberger explains his Arnold v Britton judgment

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Lord Neuberger, President of the UK Supreme Court, has offered useful insight into his intentions behind the controversial Arnold v Britton judgment that left holiday chalet leaseholders facing bills adding up to millions of pounds for services (critiqued here: Neuberger abolishes common sense).

In a talk to members of the Leasehold Valuation Tribunal* he underlined his commitment to a literal approach to be taken by courts when reading contracts, leases and legislation. But he rejects any suggestion that he has “changed the law” with the Arnold judgment. He considers the judicial art of “construction” – construing the true meaning of the document in question – and sets his judgment within the context of 40 years of judicial contractual interpretation. 

Construction
A judge’s role in “construction” or interpretation of contracts, is to identify the intention of the parties “by interpreting the words used in their documentary, factual and commercial context”, Neuberger said [referring to a case on wills in which he had made this point last year, Marley v Rawlings.] 

The principles for construing contracts and legislation were similar and leases should be treated no differently since, like contracts, they have “commercial consequences”.  

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Neuberger v M&S: was the BNP case really necessary?

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One has to ask: why did the UK Supreme Court even bother to hear, at vast public expense, the case of Marks & Spencer v BNP Paribas – in which M&S threw good money after bad in the hope of getting a few hundred thousands back from the landlords of their former London HQ in St Pancras Bay.

The money at stake isn’t the point. Was there a real issue of public interest such that the Supreme Court should have heard the whole matter again in order to come to the same view as the Court of Appeal a year earlier?

But the fact is that Lord Neuberger, President of the Supreme Court, is a man on a mission – to impose his literal interpretation of the world on the world of law. And this case was an ideal opportunity for him to drive the point home.

The legal point was simple enough: There was no term in the lease under which M&S would receive back prepaid rent after exercising a break clause and vacating the premises. So could such an apparently just and fair clause be implied into the lease “in the light of the express terms, commercial common sense, and the facts known to both parties at the time the contract was made”?  Read the rest of this entry

Joy v Joy-Morancho divorce case: not just about the Bentley

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For the press it is all about the cars – particularly the £470,000 vintage Bentley that Nichola Joy sought to have seized from her ex-husband Clive Joy-Morancho to pay towards her legal costs in their multimillion-pound divorce proceedings.

In the latest hearing, according to the national press, Mrs Joy “lost” that battle (Businessman wins divorce spat over vintage cars: Telegraph) but the truth is rather more complex. In particular High Court judge, Sir Peter Singer, made clear his dissatisfaction with Mr Joy-Morancho’s case (a fact that went unreported by the press), calling it a “sham, a charade, bogus, spurious and contrived” – and possibly even a fraud.

Mrs Joy does not avoid a tongue lashing, either. “What she says must be subjected to close scrutiny and approached with a degree of scepticism having regard to the many extravagant and often inconsistent observations to which she committed herself.”

For judges involved in this long-running (and continuing) case it must have something of the feel of a sophisticated whodunnit involving tens of millions in assets. Whose are they? Where are they? Is anyone wilfully hiding them? For others it’s a moral tale as the super-rich and their cash are sucked into the dark vortex that is a tax-efficient financial trust. As such, the papers’ reports have missed the real story. Read the rest of this entry

Housing associations: right to buy versus right to property

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Fast forward five years. A new leftist government is elected in Britain (majority 12) with a flagship policy to extend home ownership to “Generation Rent”. Legislation is drawn up to force private landlords to sell their properties at a discount to their tenants under a radical right to buy scheme. Unfortunately there is a stumbling block. One of the few human rights still standing amid the ruins of the old human rights regime following the Human Rights (Abolition of Trivial Provisions) Amendment Act 2017 is the right to property. Forcing owners of rental properties to sell them offends against Part 1 Chapter 1 Article 1(1) of the new British Bill of Rights which says:

“Every natural or legal person is entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of his possessions. No one shall be deprived of his possessions except in the public interest and subject to the conditions provided for by law and by the general principles of international law.”

Fortunately, though, there is a precedent. Backtrack five years and the Conservative Government of 2015 had just such a radical policy of redistribution of property. It similarly forced property owners to sell homes to their tenants at a discount of 35% or more – caring not whether those property owners were driven to bankruptcy as a result. The fact that the property owners are housing associations doesn’t mean they don’t have human rights: they are private bodies (hence “legal persons”) and the flats they let out are their private property. The wording quoted above is that of Article 1 Protocol 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which applies now and which the Tories have no known plans to repeal – because the human right to property is one of the “important” human rights they set great store by. Read the rest of this entry

Capita ordered to pay costs after failure to provide court interpreters

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A judge has ordered outsourcing group Capita to pay £13,000 in local authority costs after an adoption case had to be postponed because the company failed to provide interpreters. Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division condemned as a “truly lamentable state of affairs” Capita’s repeated failure to provide translators for a Roma couple from Slovakia to challenge the adoption of their two children.

The case exposes an apparent flaw in the Capita service based on its failure to put in place contracts with interpreters that will ensure they appear in courts when needed. It also exposes Capita to the risk of further cost orders against it in other cases, dealing a blow to the contract between its subsidiary, Applied Language Solutions Limited (ALS), and the Ministry of Justice.

At a previous hearing Munby P noted: “the contractual arrangements between Capita and the interpreters it provides do not give Capita the ability to require that any particular interpreter accepts any particular assignment, or even to honour any engagement which the interpreter has accepted”. Two interpreters who had accepted the work for 7 May 2014 later cancelled. ALS informed the court at 2pm on the day before the case. An outraged Munby said in the latest cost orders case (14 November 2014):

“This was done by an automatically generated email which included the words ‘We apologise for any inconvenience caused’ – a banal and formulaic statement hardly reflecting the fact that a failure to provide interpreters, particular in a case such as this, causes much more than ‘inconvenience’ to all concerned, not least to the anxious parents. The timing of the sending of this email was, I am told, in accordance with an agreed protocol. That may be, but, for reasons which will become apparent, it does not seem to me to affect Capita’s liability, nor does the fact, as I was told, that court staff have access, by way of a web portal, to the current status of any booking at all times after the booking has been made.”   Read the rest of this entry

UK court backs security ban on anonymised telephone calls system

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A UK court has upheld the Government’s right to ban commercial marketing of a money-saving telephone service on security grounds because it could provide anonymity for callers. The service uses “GSM gateways” that can reduce call charges by rerouting calls through mobile phone SIM cards – but it also allows users to make anonymous calls, potentially avoiding government surveillance.

The Court of Appeal refused to award companies damages for a government licensing system that in effect bans the GSM gateway services they offered and largely halted their business.

Lord Justice Richards said: “Since the time when the existence of GSM gateways first came to light in 2002, the Home Office has maintained that the exemption of commercial operators of such gateways from the licensing regime would be seriously detrimental to public security.” He explained the system thus:

“When a call is routed through a GSM gateway, the caller line identification of the party originating the call is replaced by that of the SIM card in the GSM gateway, so that the identity of the originating caller is masked. This is said to give rise to serious public security concerns for law enforcement agencies in relation to the investigation and prevention of terrorism and serious crime.” (Recall Support Services Limited et al v Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport [2014] EWCA Civ 1370 para 9.)

Recall Support Services and five other firms sought to challenge the ban under a European Union law to encourage the telephony sector to develop. They had originally claimed £415m in damages for alleged losses as a result of the UK Government’s maintenance of a restriction on the commercial use of GSM gateways despite a European Commission directive intended to free up telephony services. Read the rest of this entry

Jeremy Wright’s rule of law: Justice shall not be sold – unless the price is right

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Dicey? Bingham? Or perhaps you prefer the Wrightean doctrine of the Rule of Law as it operates in the UK? For Jeremy Wright (the Attorney General for those who’ve forgotten – or perhaps never knew) has given us his thoughts on this complex and contested legal principle.

Generally “the rule of law” might be boiled down to a simple phrase: No one is above the law – even the Government. This though, is not the quite message Mr Wright wishes to get across. His speech “on the UK’s long commitment to the Rule of Law” was delivered at the London Law Expo in the City of London. The Expo is a sort of legal/business fest with, this year, Dragons’ Den man James Caan as keynote speaker. Wright’s intended audience, therefore, was the business community – specifically the international business community. What excites Wright is less Britain’s commitment to the rule of law, forged through revolts and rebellions and the slow painful birth of a democratic society. No, what excites him is this: that

“the numbers show just how successful the legal services sector has been: in 2012 it was worth over £20 billion, or 1.5% of UK GDP and contributed some £4 billion in export value. There were over 300,000 people employed in our legal services sector with over 200 foreign law firms operating in London and elsewhere in the country”.

Britain, for these reasons, is not just a place to do business. It is a place to do law. So the point of  the rule of law is: it’s good for business. “Our long commitment to the rule of law I believe, is of central importance to the British economy”. For Wright has very little interests in the philosophy or practice of the rule of law; rather he is concerned to established Britain’s (or perhaps only London’s) unique selling point: “All companies know that they will be judged by clear rules applied in accordance with the law.” The rest of the speech is a promotion of UK plc’s legal services. Somehow he even manages to spin the Libor scandal as a “good” story: Read the rest of this entry

Merlin has no magic wand to gag theme park safety campaigner

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A judge has backed the right of a critic of Merlin Entertainments’ theme park safety record to continue his “robust” campaign against the owners of Alton Towers and Chessington World of Adventures. The High Court judgment has asserted the obligation companies have to endure criticism even if it is upsetting or senior employees feel harassed by it.

Merlin Entertainments had sought a court injunction against a mass emailing and internet campaign on theme park safety by Dr Peter Cave and alleged he was harassing their staff. But Mrs Justice Laing said:

“An almost inevitable consequence of occupying a position of responsibility in a plc, the business of which affects many members of the public, is that, at times, a person will be exposed to robust, and occasionally upsetting, criticism. Its officers should, of course, be protected from real harassment. But they are not immune from criticism, even if that is misguided and intemperate.” (Para 56)

The judge took no view on the validity of Dr Cave’s criticisms but said that if they were unjust, the proper recourse for Merlin was the libel courts, not an injunction. “If such a claim succeeds, the level of damages will reflect the distress caused by the defamation.”

Dr Cave’s interest in theme park safety was prompted by the accident at Chessington in which Jessica Blake, 4, was seriously injured in 2012. Dr Cave and his company, Peer Egerton Limited (PEL) were hired to do a condition survey on the park after the accident.

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Bank error in your favour? Santander may be coming for you

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Santander Bank in Britain has been given the right to identify and pursue by telephone and email the beneficiaries of erroneous payments – even though the thousands of pounds-worth of errors were made as a result of Santander’s own failings.

The High Court has rejected privacy concerns and ruled that Santander can force other banks to reveal the details of mistaken beneficiaries by issuing a “Norwich Pharmacal” order – usually used to reveal fraudsters and other wrongdoers – even though wrongdoing may not have occurred in these cases. 

The unwitting beneficiaries can now have their names, addresses, emails and telephone numbers revealed to Santander which can use them to press customers to repay the money or ultimately take legal action against them. Mr Justice Birss in the High Court Chancery Division has concluded that privacy rights are trumped by property rights. The orders are supposed to be issued only in exceptional cases but Birss has in effect created a rubber-stamping mechanism for issuing the orders whenever banks make errors and cannot trace the beneficiaries.

The case undermines the right to privacy by suggesting that in future there need not be real evidence of wrongdoing (eg fraud or internet piracy) or of a wrongdoer before such orders are issued. They can be issued on the assumption of wrongdoing without an arguable case being put in open court that wrongdoing has occurred.

Hundreds of such transfer errors occur each month and Santander has recently set up a Refunds and Recoveries team to deal with them. Typical errors include duplicate payments, the selection of an incorrect mandate and the insertion of an incorrect account number. In some cases the bank is stymied when trying to get money back from customers of other banks because the beneficiaries – whose names and details are unknown to Santander – are protected by the other banks’ confidentiality.

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