Case roundup

This
week’s case roundup

Keeping
up-to-date
Dent Wizard (UK) Ltd v Thomas, High Court, 2002, All ER(D) 104 (Jul)

A
company that engaged in specialist practices and relied heavily upon client
relationships had a close shave in this case, when it failed to keep its
all-important restrictive covenants in the employee contracts up to date.

Thomas
was a specialist technician with the firm, and when he requested a change in
role in 1999, the company gave him one with a much broader clientele and geographic
area.

As
a result, however, it also changed his contract, which – as with all its
employees – prevented him from undertaking similar work in his locality for six
months on leaving, and from having any contact with company clients for nine
months.  With Thomas’ broader role, the
area restriction was dropped and the limitations focused solely on his client
relationships.

When
Thomas’ role changed yet again to a localised one, no further changes were made
to his contract.

He
resigned shortly afterwards to set up in competition with Dent Wizard,
dismissing his broad restric-tive covenants as unreasonably wide and
unrepresentative of his final role.

The
company, concerned to preserve the client relationships which Thomas had built
up before leaving, sought an injunction against him.  On the facts, and to the firm’s relief, the court found that the
purpose of the restrictive covenants in Thomas’ contract was to protect the
company’s client relationships, and it allowed the injunction.

Had
the contractual restrictions been kept up to date however, a lot of uncertainty
and stress might have been avoided.

Ensuring
right to fair trial
Preedy v Smith (trading as Easterhill Furniture) and Another, EAT, 2002,
All ER(D) 56 (Jul)

Ensuring
that the right to a fair trial is not prejudiced has been the theme of a number
of EAT cases recently. Here, the tribunal once more reiterated that – even
where a party is guilty of vexatious conduct within the proceedings – the
tribunal must still satisfy itself that a fair trial could not take place as a
result, before striking out the complaint.

In
this case, and in the context of an unfair dismissal claim brought by Preedy,
the tribunal made a commonplace Directions Order, requiring exchange of witness
statements by the parties 14 days before the hearing.

Preedy’s
representative failed to comply with the order on her behalf until arrival at
the hearing. As a result, the company successfully applied for the case to be
struck out due to vexatious conduct on the part of Preedy, who then appealed.

While
the court acknowledged the difficult circumstances faced by the tribunal, it
was nonetheless vital that before taking the draconian step of striking out a
claim, the tribunal should consider the effect of vexatious conduct and whether
it impacted upon the ability to have a fair trial.

Its
failure to consider that in this instance, meant the case should fairly be
reinstated.

Comments are closed.