Anton Piller v Manufacturing Processes Ltd: CA 8 Dec 1975

Civil Search Orders possible

The plaintiff manufactured and supplied through the defendants, its English agents, computer components. It had reason to suspect that the defendant was disclosing its trade secrets to competitors. The court considered the effect of a civil search order (as opposed to a criminal search warrant), where the court had in effect ordered ex parte the defendant to allow the plaintiff entry to his premises to inspect documents. The plaintiff appealed against refusal of such an order.
Held: The appeal succeeded, and the order made. This type of order requires an applicant to satisfy four essential pre-conditions: that there is an extremely strong prima facie case; that the damage which they will suffer will be serious; that there is clear evidence that the respondents have in their possession some damaging documents or other material; and that there is a real possibility that the material might be destroyed before any application inter partes could be brought.
Lord Denning MR said: ‘Let me say at once that no court in this land has any power to issue a search warrant to enter a man’s house so as to see if there are papers or documents there which are of an incriminating nature, whether libels or infringements of copyright or anything else of the kind. No constable or bailiff can knock at the door and demand entry so as to inspect papers or documents. The householder can shut the door in his face and say ‘Get out’. That was established in the leading case of Entick v Carrington (1765) 2 Wils.K.B.275. None of us would wish to whittle down that principle in the slightest. But the order sought in this case is not a search warrant. It does not authorize the plaintiff’s solicitors or anyone else to enter the defendants’ premises against their will. It does not authorize the breaking down of any doors, nor the slipping in by a back door, nor getting in by an open door or window . . The plaintiffs must get the defendants’ permission. But it does do this: It brings pressure on the defendants to give permission. It does more. It actually orders them to give permission – with, I suppose, the result that if they do not give permission, they are guilty of contempt of court.’

Lord Denning MR, Ormrod LJ, Shaw LJ
[1976] Ch 55, [1975] EWCA Civ 12, [1976] 1 All ER 779, [1976] 2 WLR 162, [1976] RPC 719, [1976] FSR 129
England and Wales
CitedEntick v Carrington KBD 1765
The Property of Every Man is Sacred
The King’s Messengers entered the plaintiff’s house and seized his papers under a warrant issued by the Secretary of State, a government minister.
Held: The common law does not recognise interests of state as a justification for allowing what . .
CitedEMI v Pandit ChD 3-Dec-1974
The making of an order allowing the plaintiff’s to execute a search on the other party’s premises is in effect part of the process of discovery. Templeman J discussed the making of such orders ex parte: ‘if it appears that the object of the . .
CitedThe United Company of Merchants of England, Trading To The East Indies v Roger Kynaston, Esq HL 9-Mar-1821
The Respondent, an impropriate rector, having by a decree of the Court of Chancery been found to be entitled (under the decree made in pursuance of the act 37 Henry VHI.) to the tithes, according to the value, of warehouses in London, occupied by . .

Cited by:
CitedC Plc v P and Attorney General Intervening CA 22-May-2007
The respondent had been subject to a civil search, which revealed the existence of obscene images of children on his computer. He appealed against refusal of an order that the evidence should not be passed to the police as evidence. He said that the . .
CitedA J Bekhor and Co Ltd v Bilton CA 6-Feb-1981
The plaintiff had applied for disclosure of assets under the Rules of the Supreme Court in support of a Mareva freezing order. The rules were held not to provide any such power: disclosure of assets could not be obtained as part of discovery as the . .
CitedRank Film Distributors v Video Information Centre HL 1-Mar-1981
The plaintiffs claimed large-scale copyright infringement, and obtained Anton Pillar orders. The House considered the existence of the privilege against self-incrimination where the Anton Piller type of order has been made. The Court of Appeal had . .
CitedPhillips v Mulcaire SC 24-May-2012
The claimant worked as personal assistant to a well known public relations company. She alleged that the defendant had intercepted telephone message given by and left for her. The court was asked first as to whether the information amounted to . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Litigation Practice

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Updated: 01 November 2021; Ref: scu.188779