ID Medical Group Ltd v Unified Medical Ltd

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
CourtChancery Division
JudgeDaniel Alexander
Judgment Date17 April 2018
Neutral Citation[2018] EWHC 850 (Ch)
Date17 April 2018
Docket NumberCLAIM NO BL-2018-000566

[2018] EWHC 850 (Ch)

IN THE HIGH COURT OF JUSTICE

BUSINESS AND PROPERTY COURTS OF ENGLAND AND WALES

BUSINESS LIST (ChD)

Rolls Building, Fetter Lane, London EC4

Before:

Mr Daniel Alexander

(sitting as a Deputy Judge of the High Court Chancery Division)

CLAIM NO BL-2018-000566

Between:
ID Medical Group Limited
Applicant/Claimant
and
(1) Unified Medical Limited
(2) Robert Agnew
(3) Ross Burton
(4) John Callum Boardman
(5) Benjamin Thompson and 12 Further Defendants
Respondents/Defendants

Mr Alaric Watson instructed by EMW Law LLP appeared for the Claimant

The First to Fifth Defendants in person

Hearing date: 13 April 2018, further written submissions 16 April 2018

JUDGMENT APPROVED

Daniel Alexander QC:

INTRODUCTION

1

This case concerns rival companies in the healthcare recruitment business. The claimant is a major recruitment agency specialising in placing nurses and other healthcare professionals. The first defendant is a new company set up by the second defendant, a former senior employee of the claimant and in which a considerable number of former employees of the claimant are now involved. The departure of the second defendant, the setting up of the first defendant, the recruitment of the former staff of the claimant, and the various contacts that those on behalf of the first defendant have had with hospitals seeking nurses and nurses seeking employment who were previously contacts of the claimant, has given rise to an action seeking to enforce restrictive covenants in the former employees' contracts of employment, to restrain alleged breaches of confidence and other related relief. The remaining respondents are other former employees of the claimant who are now involved with the first defendant. The remaining defendants who are not respondents to the current applications are also former employees of the claimant, now working with the first defendant.

2

By an application notice dated 9 March 2018, the claimant applied for an interim injunction to restrain various alleged threatened activities of the respondents. The application originally came before Mr Justice Zacaroli on 20 March 2018. He accepted certain undertakings as to the respondents' activities pending the effective hearing of the application, ordered certain information to be given by the respondents and stood the matter over to a 1 day hearing. At that stage the respondents were represented by counsel (in the case of the 3–5 th respondents pursuant to the CLIPS scheme).

The hearing

3

The effective hearing came before me on 13 April 2018, by which time none of the respondents were represented by solicitors or counsel. The previously instructed solicitors for the first and second respondents had, I was told, applied to come off the record just before the hearing.

4

The case was opened on behalf of the claimant and there was discussion between the court and counsel for the claimant about the points on the order sought that were of particular concern. During that discussion, some of the issues and the relevant case law were explained to the respondents at greater length than would ordinarily have been done, given that they were acting in person. The argument included discussion of further evidence served out of time by the respondents which it was said to be relied upon. I also considered that (extensive) further evidence over the short adjournment.

5

Shortly after the respondents started to address the court in person, it became clear that that, contrary to what had appeared at the outset, there was limited difference between the parties as to the interim orders it would be appropriate to make, especially as regards the injunctions sought which had been somewhat modified since the form in the original application notice. Those have now been agreed completely and provide, inter alia, for an element of “springboard” relief by way of extended undertakings until trial or certain fixed dates. Because of that agreement during the hearing, it became unnecessary for the court to consider whether such extensive relief was in fact justified and it is also unnecessary to set out the undertakings in full here.

6

The parties indicated that costs were not agreed and I heard argument on this and interim payment. I indicated that I would be minded to make an award of costs but I did not reach a concluded decision as to the form of order, since there were additional matters to be finalised on the draft order, in particular as regards directions to trial which needed to be subject of discussion between the parties. I therefore adjourned the hearing and asked the parties to submit an agreed order by 10.00am on the next court day, 16 April 2018 or, if not agreed, to indicate the nature of any disputes, which I would then resolve in writing. They have done so and this is my judgment on the outstanding matters on the form of order.

7

The parties also made further written submissions on 16 April 2018 with the proposed draft order, largely directed to costs, which I have taken into account.

The parties' proposed directions

8

The directions which the parties invite the court to endorse are as follows:

1. The matter be listed for expedited trial on the first open date after 1 July 2018, with a time estimate of 10 days (including pre-reading).

2. The Defendants do file and serve their Defence by no later than 4:30pm on 23 April 2018.

3. In relation to disclosure:

a. Each party is to give such further disclosure as may be necessary to the other side by list by no later than 4:30pm on 4 May 2018;

b. Inspection by no later than 4:30pm on 11 May 2018;

c. The Claimant's Solicitors be at liberty to inspect the images taken by its IT expert in accordance with the undertakings given to the Court on 20 March 2018 (as recorded in the Order of that date by Zacaroli J). The Claimant's Solicitors be at liberty to share with the Claimant any material found therein other than the confidential information of the Defendants.

d. There be liberty to apply back to the Court by either side on 3 days' notice to the other party in relation to 3(c) above.

4. The parties to exchange and file such further Witness Statements as they wish to rely on at trial by no later than 4:30pm on 8 June 2018. For the avoidance of doubt each party is at liberty to rely on the evidence filed in connection with the Application herein at trial as evidence in chief (supplemented as they see fit).

9

These proposed directions set a compressed schedule to a very early trial and include provision for disclosure and evidence from 17, currently unrepresented, defendants.

10

Directions for trial are not a matter only for the parties, still less only the parties who are before the court on this application. There is no indication that these directions have been agreed with each of the other individual employee defendants who are not respondents to the application and against whom, in some cases, claims have been made for breach of contract by failing to work out their notice over rather modest periods of between a week and a few weeks. Moreover, since the hearing on 13 April 2008, the time estimate for the case has significantly expanded.

EXPEDITION

11

The parties have not made a formal application for an expedited trial and the first substantive discussion of expedition was in the claimant's skeleton argument for the hearing.

12

Although the directions as between the parties are unobjectionable as far as they go, expedition is not a right. Given the work that had already been done, which consists of the preparation of a significant volume of evidence on both sides, it appears that it would be possible for the case to be heard relatively rapidly. However, the fact that it may be possible and the parties wish it to be done is only the starting point, especially in a case where no proper application for expedition has been made.

Principles

13

The relevant principles which the court applies in ordering expedition are usefully summarised in Warner-Lambert Company LLC v Teva UK Ltd & Ors [2011] EWHC 2018 (Ch) (22 July 2011) by reference to the summary by Warren J in CPC Group Limited and Qatari Diar Real Estate Investment Company [2009] EWHC, 3204 (Ch) as follows:

The Law

83. Before expressing my conclusion on whether there should be an expedited trial, I should briefly mention the law.

84. In ( Wembley National Stadium v Wembley unreported, CA, 28 November 2000) Jonathan Parker LJ (with whom the other Lords Justice agreed) confirmed at paragraph 54 that ‘the issue whether to grant expedition, and if so how much and on what terms, was a matter essentially for the discretion of the judge’. That case was a fairly clear case of urgency, concerning the rectification of a lease which if not rectified prevented work commencing on the new stadium for 2 years. The consequences of delay could have been disastrous and the trial would result in the final resolution of the dispute between the parties.

85. Like any discretion, that discretion must of course be exercised judicially. It is ‘partly a question of principle and partly a question of practice’: Daltel v Makki ….Lloyd J at paragraph 11, a case where an expedited trial was not, in fact, ordered.

86. The general principle under the CPR is that cases are to be brought to court as soon as reasonably possible, consistently, of course, with the overriding objective: See Daltel at paragraph 12; to similar effect, see also Law Debenture Trust v Elektrim, Morgan J at paragraph 11.

87. The Court has a wider responsibility. It must also take into account ‘the requirements of other litigants’: See Elektrim at paragraph 11 and Daltel at paragraph 11. This is because

‘Any order for expedition involves a disturbance of the normal procedure of a case to be got to trial. It involves giving preference to one case in the allocation of court time over other cases; it also involves...

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