Ownership of emails

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Fairstar Heavy Transport –v- Adkins [2013] EWCA – CIB 886 5thtranscript of the Court of Appeal

Facts

We mentioned the first instance Decision in this case in which Mr Adkins had worked as chief executive as an agent not as an employee.  The company which hired him as an agent changed ownership and the new owners sought access to Mr Adkins’ emails.  Adkins had a peculiar arrangement with those paying him whereby after he sent company emails, they were deleted from the company’s system and forwarded to his own private email address.  He refused to hand them over.

Court of Appeal Held:

  1. In the first instance the Judge was wrong to go into issues of proprietary right to information.  What mattered was whether it was a necessary implied term of agency that the agent would give its former principal access to documents which were held by him by virtue of having been an agent, or which he had come by or generated because of that role.
  2. Emails were documents and there must be a general rule that a principal is entitled to require production by its agent of documents relating to the principal’s affairs.
  3. Documents could include information recorded, held or stored by means other than paper.  The form of recording or storage was merely incidental.

Comment

The courts are consistently and repeatedly treating electronic documentation as having the same weight and effect as paper documentation in a range of cases ranging from formation of contract and formation of guarantees, creation of contracts and disclosure of access.

For more information, help or advice on any of the above issues please contact Rob Langley on 0191 211 7975.