The High Court has found two ex-employees of a claimant (C) liable for breaching their duties of confidence, but has rejected C’s claim for substantial damages. Instead, C was awarded the nominal sum of £2.
C had sought damages of £15 million, based on breaches of duty in copying and retaining confidential files. Crucially, the case was not brought on the basis that the defendants’ misuse of confidential information had caused C to suffer any loss or resulted in the defendants making any financial gain.
In the case of one of the defendants, the copied files were never subsequently accessed or used. The other defendant had made limited use of a few files, but C had not sought a remedy for the use actually made.
This case provides a useful illustration of the court’s approach to damages in cases where liability and breach of duty can be swiftly established, but establishing a loss to the claimant or gain to the defendant is less clear-cut. The judgment highlights the importance of focusing a claim for damages on the realities of the situation, rather than hypothetical outcomes. It also demonstrates that, even in cases of clear wrongdoing, the court’s role is not to punish but to recognise loss suffered, or gains illegitimately made.
The High Court has found that a statement by the treasurer of an unincorporated association about the former president of the association, was defamatory.
The former president, while he was president, had been given £2500 to donate to a medical mission in Nigeria. He paid it via his UK and Nigerian bank accounts. The treasurer was concerned about deficiencies in the receipts and sent a statement to 15 association members and elders which said that the president had provided “dodgy receipts” and stated that “the receipts were forged”.
The treasurer failed to prove that the receipts were forgeries. He had reasonable grounds for believing that the documents were forgeries, and had been honest in that belief, but for the defence of honest opinion he had to establish that the words complained of had been a statement of opinion, rather than fact.
He was unable to do this and the court awarded damages of £2,000.
The High Court has awarded £50,000 damages to a US law firm and its principal, finding that a false posting on the firm’s Google Maps profile was defamatory.
Jason Page, the defendant, admitted that the posting of the negative review of the firm had come from his Google account, but denied that he was responsible for it.
After considering various hypothetical explanations from Mr Page, the court concluded that the most likely explanation, on a balance of probabilities, was that the posting from Mr Page’s account was authored or authorised by him. It was extremely improbable that anyone had successfully hacked into that account; there was no evidence that anyone did so and no reason why anyone with a grudge against the claimants should attempt to go down that route. The court commented that it was unclear why Mr Page wished to attack the law firm or its principal but said it was not necessary to reach a conclusion on the motive.
The court awarded the US lawyer £45,000 damages, taking into account in particular the impact upon him personally. It would have awarded a further £25,000 to the firm, but due to a voluntary cap on damages of £50,000, this was the total sum to be recovered.