The English courts are each common and world-famous for the business and sensible method by which they resolve disputes. Equally well-known are the assorted types of interim aid out there to the English courts to permit them to resolve instances justly. Two of probably the most well-known types of aid are the search order (often known as an Anton Piller Order) and the freezing injunction (often known as a Mareva Injunction), as soon as famously described by Sir John Donaldson MR as ‘the regulation’s two “nuclear” weapons’ (Financial institution Mellat v Mohammed Ebrahim Nikpour [1985] FSR 87).

Daria Sakhno

James Barratt

Within the present Covid-19 local weather, nonetheless, one could effectively ask how the search order particularly is to function. Though the English courts stay open for enterprise, having adopted a distant working protocol, the execution of a search order essentially includes an invasive factor of ‘shut contact’ that appears, by its nature, to be inappropriate within the present local weather.

Search orders: the necessities

Any applicant who needs for the court docket to train the search order jurisdiction should persuade the English court docket of 4 principal issues. These are as follows:

  • That the applicant has an especially robust prima facie case towards the respondent on the deserves.
  • That there’s clear proof that the respondent holds incriminating paperwork or supplies.
  • That there’s a actual risk that such objects could also be destroyed earlier than any utility on discover could be made.
  • That the respondent’s actions (i.e. the destruction of proof) would lead to very severe potential or precise hurt to the claimant’s pursuits.

The necessities for acquiring a search order replicate its principal function; particularly, to stop a respondent from destroying proof the place there’s good trigger to imagine that he’s or is about to take action. In instances of fraud particularly, one of the crucial necessary items of proof is the respondent’s previous behaviour. That is frequent sense. The place there’s robust proof {that a} respondent has engaged in fraudulent conduct, it’s unsurprising that the English court docket is prepared to search out that the respondent is exactly the kind of one that would destroy proof in breach of his disclosure obligations.

Influence of Covid-19

Within the present period of Covid-19, though the final prohibition towards ‘gatherings’ beneath the relevant laws has now been repealed*, there stays a normal sense of unease the place indoor gatherings particularly are involved due to the danger of a ‘second wave’ of Covid-19. 

James Kitching

Simon Camilleri

Within the case of a search order, nonetheless, the character of the aid will necessitate some type of indoor ‘gathering’, usually within the respondent’s workplace or dwelling, of greater than two individuals, together with the respondent himself, members of his household (if at dwelling) or his workers (if at work), his solicitor (if requested to attend), the supervising solicitor, the applicant’s consultant and probably an e-discovery skilled to take copies of paperwork saved on any digital system.

Nevertheless, what of the place of the respondent? Can he resist the search order by refusing to allow entry to his premises on the idea that he has actual and real considerations over the impression on his well being of bringing quite a lot of strangers into his dwelling or place of job? Or can he stop or deny entry to the applicant on the idea that he – or a member of his household – shows one of many two signs by which Covid-19 has change into identified. Extra particularly for a respondent’s solicitor, what’s the recommendation that they need to give if requested whether or not their shopper can refuse entry over Covid-19 considerations?

Of explicit problem for a respondent is the danger that attaches to a failure correctly to adjust to a search order. Whereas a respondent retains a discretion as as to if or to not allow entry to his premises, there isn’t any doubt {that a} respondent who fails to adjust to a search order faces the very actual danger of being dedicated to jail, or doing irreparable hurt to his personal case. Certainly, in a current case, it was stated that ‘all the efficacy of [a search order] hinges upon the truth that it’s, when executed, revered strictly in response to its letter and in response to its phrases’, with the end result that obstructing the execution of the search order in that case constituted an actionable contempt (Common Enterprise Group PTY Ltd v Moffitt [2017] EWHC 3251 (Ch), at [33]).

Within the present local weather, it could be stated towards an applicant that well being ought to come first, and that if a respondent refuses to adjust to a search order, a contempt utility isn’t an acceptable option to proceed. In any case, if the applicant has happy the English court docket that there’s documentary proof that runs the danger of being destroyed by the respondent, all the things ought to come out within the wash when disclosure is ordered and the proof, if it has been destroyed, fails to materialise. Nevertheless, that is unlikely to be passable in each case. In sure instances, the worth of the proof held by the respondent doesn’t derive solely from what it says about his conduct: there’s additionally the financial worth that arises from the quantification of loss. In these circumstances, an applicant might not be proud of a contempt discovering if the victory on the deserves is merely pyrrhic.

Justin Michaelson

There are probably a number of choices out there that will swimsuit each the applicant and the respondent. Particularly:

  • Require the respondent to undertake to ship as much as the applicant sure particular gadgets or objects identified to be within the respondent’s possession, with out allowing entry into the house or place of work. Clearly, a failure to ship the system might have the identical contempt or evidentiary penalties as a failure to allow a search. This isn’t an ideal answer and, certainly, it could not work in each case. In instances of fraud, any answer that depends upon the ‘good will’ of the respondent is prone to be met with concern by the applicant.
  • An extra choice is to depend on cautious drafting throughout the phrases of the search order itself. One could effectively think about a state of affairs the place a ‘Covid-19 protocol’ is adopted within the search order, making it clear that considerations over well being and security don’t outweigh the necessity to protect proof, and specifying measures that everybody should observe in the course of the execution of such an order.

In actuality, nonetheless, it’s seemingly that there isn’t any good answer to the actual difficulties attributable to Covid-19 and the impact that the virus is prone to have on the execution of the very private search order treatment. What appears clear, nonetheless, is that the place an applicant intends to use for a search order to protect proof, he should consider carefully of the sensible realities of making use of for this aid within the present local weather, in addition to the obstacles (along with the usually heavy burden imposed on an applicant in any occasion) raised by Covid-19. A respondent, alternatively, will virtually definitely be left with robust selections to make as to refusing entry to protect his well being with the resultant risk of being confronted both with contempt proceedings or an utility to attract adversarial inferences towards him.



*Regulation 7 of the Well being Safety (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Laws 2020, prohibiting indoor gatherings of greater than two individuals, has now been repealed


Daria Sakhno, James Barratt, James Kitching, Simon Camilleri, Justin Michaelson, Fried Frank