High Court orders disclosure of social media and email accounts in enforcement case

Out-Law News | 04 May 2020 | 9:27 pm | 1 min. read

An English court has ordered an individual subject to a court injunction to disclose details of his social media and email accounts, using powers normally directed towards banks.

 

The Lakatamia Shipping Company is attempting to identify assets belonging to Asian businessman Nobu Su, against whom it has obtained a freezing injunction and who is serving a prison sentence for contempt of court.

Su claimed he had forgotten the passwords and other details allowing access to social media and email accounts which were the subject of the injunction.

Lakatamia asked for a number of orders, including that Su sign a mandate to each of his known email and social media providers, authorising them to disclose details of his accounts.

In deciding to grant the order Mr Justice Foxton considered the extent of the courts’ powers under section 39 of the Senior Courts Act 1981, and decided there was no distinction between the well-known situation of the court requiring a respondent to sign mandates directing banks to disclose information, and an order to sign a mandate to social media and email providers.

The judge said granting the application was the only means of seeking access to the documents which Lakatamia should be able to access. He said the order was directed against Su, and not the third-party providers of the email and social media accounts.

An independent lawyer will now be given access to the accounts, and will give Lakatamia documents which are not subject to privilege against self-incrimination or legal professional privilege.

Dispute resolution expert Mike Hawthorne of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law, said: “This is a useful illustration of how you can use the court’s power to sign documents on behalf of a third parties in innovative ways.

“There has been a trend recently for parties to use this power in novel ways, and the court appears willing for the uses of the power to evolve as necessary to give effect to its orders. It is useful to be aware that this option is potentially available for social media accounts and other online services, because it can be hard to force defendants to comply with disclosure and take down orders, especially when the defendants are overseas,” Hawthorne said.

“Interestingly, the courts in many other European jurisdictions do not have equivalent powers, and this could be important if you have a choice of venues in which to bring a claim,” Hawthorne said.

Hawthorne said parties had been increasingly making use of the courts’ powers to sign a document on behalf of a non-compliant person as a way around the kind of non-cooperation seen in the Lakatamia case, as an alternative to bringing a lengthy contempt of court action.