Littlewoods Organisations Ltd v Harris: CA 1977

When construing restrictive covenants in an employment contract, the court should construe the contract in the light of the object and intent of the contract as a whole. It may be read down and need not be read literally. Lord Denning said that it is just because there may be serious difficulties in identifying precisely what is or what is not confidential information that a non-competition clause may be the most satisfactory form of restraint, provided that it is reasonable in time and space.
Lord Denning MR said: ‘It is thus established that an employer can stipulate for protection against having his confidential information passed on to a rival in trade but experience has shown that it is not satisfactory to have simply a covenant against disclosing confidential information. The reason is because it is so difficult to draw the line between information which is confidential and information which is not and it is very difficult to prove a breach when the information is of such a character that a servant can carry it away in his head. The difficulties are such that the only practicable solution is to take a covenant from the servant by which he is not to go to work for a rival in trade. Such a covenant may well be held to be reasonable if limited to a short period. That appears from the judgment of Mr Justice Cross in Printers and Finishers Limited v Holloway . .’


Lord Denning MR


[1977] 1 WLR 1472, [1978] 1 All ER 1026


England and Wales


CitedPrinters and Finishers Limited v Holloway 1965
The court considered the questions arising from the use of information acquired by an employee during his employment after that employment had ended, and noted that information the future use of which will not be restrained is information not . .

Cited by:

MentionedAllan Janes Llp v Johal ChD 23-Feb-2006
The claimant sought to enforce a restrictive covenant against the defendant a former assistant solicitor as to non-competition within a certain distance of the practice for a period of three years. After leaving she had sought to set up partnership . .
CitedWillow Oak Developments Ltd. (T/A Windsor Recruitment) v Silverwood and others CA 25-May-2006
The employer appealed a finding that he had been unreasonable in seeking to vary the employment contracts of his staff by adding post employment restrictive covenants, and that the consequent dismissals were unfair. Copies of the new contracts had . .
CitedScully UK Limited v Lee CA 9-Feb-1998
An employee had covenanted that throughout the year following termination he would not engage in or be ‘otherwise interested in, whether as a shareholder . . employee or . . in any other capacity’ any business, which was defined in terms not limited . .
CitedThomas v Farr Plc and Another CA 20-Feb-2007
The employee, the former chairman of the company, appealed a finding that his contract which restricted his being employed for one year in the same field after termination, was valid and enforceable. The company had provided insurance services to . .
CitedCaterpillar Logistics Services (UK) Ltd v Huesca De Crean QBD 2-Dec-2011
The claimant sought an order to prevent the defendant, a former employee, from misusing its confidential information said to be held by her. Her contract contained no post employment restrictions but did seek to control confidential and other . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.


Updated: 01 May 2022; Ref: scu.240028