Fairstar Heavy Transport NV v Adkins and Claranet Limited [2013] EWCA Civ 886

Mr Adkins had been Fairstar's chief executive officer, but not an employee. Emails sent to Mr Adkins at Fairstar were automatically forwarded to Mr Adkins' private email address and deleted from the server. Emails sent by him from home were not copied to Fairstar. Fairstar was taken over following a hostile bid and wished to have access to the emails received and sent by Mr Adkins.

Because the relevant contract provided that the Dutch courts would have exclusive jurisdiction, Fairstar confined its claim in the High Court to a proprietary claim in the content of the emails. The High Court held that there was no proprietary right in the content of information, so it declined to make an order for delivery up of the emails. The decision was reported in Bulletin 91 covering October 2012.

The Court of Appeal allowed Fairstar's appeal and ordered disclosure. The preliminary issue decided by the judge (i.e. whether there was a property right in information contained in emails) was an unnecessary complication. The right to inspect and copy the content of emails on Mr Adkin's computer rose from an agency relationship that survived its termination. The matter could be decided without a jurisprudential debate about the legal characteristics of "property", or whether the contents of emails was "information". Fairstar was entitled to relief against Adkins because their former relationship was that of principal and agent. As a general rule a principal was entitled to require production by its agent of documents relating to the affairs of the principal and those documents could include information stored other than on paper.


The agency point was not argued before the High Court. The Court of Appeal did not actually overrule (or even discuss) the High Court decision, so in theory the judge's remarks about proprietary rights in information still stand.

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