Access to former CEO’s business emails stored on personal server

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In Fairstar Heavy Transport NV v Philip Jeffrey Adkins & anr [2013] EWCA Civ 886, a former chief executive officer (CEO) of a company was ordered to disclose business emails (held on a personal server) to the company. The Court of Appeal rejected the first instance analysis concerning whether the company had a proprietary right in the emails, preferring instead an agency analysis.

The parties’ relationship was one of principal and agent (the CEO was contracted to, not employed by, the company), and therefore the agent is required by law to produce documents relating to the affairs of the principal. Information readable on screen or which is printable is subject to the same incidents of agency as applicable to paper documents.

At first instance, the court was asked to determine whether to continue an injunction restraining the first defendant (Mr Adkins) from deleting or otherwise interfering with emails (stored on his personal server in England) he had sent or received when working for the claimant. There was a question as to whether, during the period leading up to the hostile takeover of the claimant company, Mr Adkins had hidden a substantial liability of the company. The claimant had sought to access Mr Adkins’ emails in order to gain further information on this liability…

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