Phillips 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 ‘technical or commercial information’ within the definition of ‘intellectual property’ in section 72(5) of the 1981 Act, and then as to whether the defendant could invoke the privilege against self incrimination.
Held: The defendant’s appeal failed. Section 72 excluded his right to rely on the privilege against self-incrimination. The proceedings were ‘proceedings for . . rights pertaining to . . intellectual property” and the conspiracy proceedings to which the defendant might be exposed would be a ‘related offence’.
Any exclusion of the privilege must be narrowly drawn and clearly made out, but the risk was that victims might otherwise lose any redress. There is no universal defimnition of intellectual property, and the court must look to the words of the section. Whether ‘technical or commercial information’ was property was not relevant. Section 72 aimed to protect against wrongful exploitation of commercial property, and not against wider wrongs. The voicemails here contained confidential commercial information.
A sufficient link between the information and the portended charge must be shown. If the defendant did conspire to intercept messages, then an offence was committed when the unlawful agreement was made. But conspiracy is a continuing offence, and it continued so long as the agreement was being performed. Every interception pursuant to that unlawful agreement would therefore be in the course of the offence

Lord Hope, Deputy President, Lord Walker, Lord Kerr, Lord Clarke, Lord Dyson
[2012] UKSC 28, UKSC 2012/0038, [2012] 3 WLR 312, [2012] WLR(D) 193, [2012] 4 All ER 207, [2012] 5 Costs LO 609, [2013] 1 AC 1, [2012] EMLR 31
Bailii, SC Summary, SC, Bailii Summary
Senior Courts Act 1981 72(2)(a)
England and Wales
At First InstancePhillips v Newsgroup Newspapers Ltd and Others ChD 17-Nov-2010
The claimant had been assistant to a well known publicist. The defendant had settled an action brought by her principal for hacking his mobile telephone, in the course of which it appeared that the claimant’s phone had also been hacked. She now . .
CitedAnton 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 . .
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 . .
At First InstanceGray v News Group Newspapers Ltd and Another; Coogan v Same ChD 25-Feb-2011
The claimants said that agents of the defendant had unlawfully accessed their mobile phone systems. The court was now asked whether the agent (M) could rely on the privilege against self incrimination, and otherwise as to the progress of the case. . .
Appeal fromCoogan v News Group Newspapers Ltd etc CA 1-Feb-2012
The claimants said that their voicemail accounts had been hacked by one defendant on behalf of the other. They sought discovery of records, and the defendants argued for the benefit of the privilege against self incrimination.
Lord Neuberger MR . .
CitedA T and T Istel Ltd v Tully HL 9-Sep-1992
The second plaintff had agreed to supply computer systems to a health authority. New owners of the company discovered allegations that the contract had been operated fraudulently. An order had been obtained for production of documents, but the order . .
CitedSociedade Nacional de Combustatives de Angola UEE v Lundqvist CA 1990
Large quantities of crude oil had been sold at an undervalue by a dishonest consultant and his associates. A Mareva injunction had been granted. The defendant objected to being required to disclose the extent of his foreign assets saying that such . .
CitedKensington International Ltd v Republic of Congo CA 7-Nov-2007
The defendants appealed against orders requiring them to disclose documents in an action regarding the payment of bribes, saying that the requirement effectively required them to incriminate themselves.
Held: The appeal failed. The public . .
CitedPhipps v Boardman HL 3-Nov-1966
A trustee has a duty to exploit any available opportunity for the trust. ‘Rules of equity have to be applied to such a great diversity of circumstances that they can be stated only in the most general terms and applied with particular attention to . .
CitedMiliangos v George Frank (Textiles) Ltd HL 1975
The issue was whether an English court was able to award damages in Sterling only.
Held: The House distinguished clearly between the substance of the debtor’s obligations and the effect of English procedural law when a debt in a foreign . .
CitedFaccenda Chicken Ltd v Fowler CA 1986
Nature of Confidentiality in Information
The appellant plaintiff company had employed the defendant as sales manager. The contract of employment made no provision restricting use of confidential information. He left to set up in competition. The company now sought to prevent him using . .
CitedDuchess of Argyll v Duke of Argyll ChD 1967
An interlocutory injunction was granted to protect against the revelation of marital confidences, and the newspaper to which the Duke had communicated such information about the Duchess was restrained from publishing it. The concept of . .
CitedDirector of Public Prosecutions v Doot HL 1973
The defendants were charged with conspiracy to import dangerous drugs into the United Kingdom. Their counsel submitted that they could not be tried in England since the conspiracy had been formed abroad.
Held: There could be no breach of any . .
CitedDouglas and others v Hello! Ltd and others; similar HL 2-May-2007
In Douglas, the claimants said that the defendants had interfered with their contract to provide exclusive photographs of their wedding to a competing magazine, by arranging for a third party to infiltrate and take and sell unauthorised photographs. . .
CitedRenworth Ltd v Stephansen and Another CA 10-Jan-1996
There was no privilege against self incrimination in a civil action for a fanciful fear of criminal charges. . .
CitedKhan v Khan CA 1982
The plaintiff gave the defendant a cheque for andpound;40,000 with which to buy a house for P. D applied the money to his own purposes, and P claimed. The defendants were required to swear affidavits setting out full details of the whereabouts of . .
CitedRegina v Director of Serious Fraud Office, ex Parte Smith HL 15-Jul-1992
The applicant having been cautioned for an offence under the Companies Act 1985, he objected to being required to answer questions put to him in connection with the matter by the Director of the Serious Fraud Office under the 1987 Act.
Held: . .
CitedTate Access Floors Inc v Boswell 1991
Senior employees were suspected of misappropriating the company’s funds.
Held: The authorities did not establish the wide proposition that where a defendant agrees to act as a fiduciary, he impliedly contracts not to raise the claim to the . .
CitedSociedade Nacional de Combustatives de Angola UEE v Lundqvist CA 1990
Large quantities of crude oil had been sold at an undervalue by a dishonest consultant and his associates. A Mareva injunction had been granted. The defendant objected to being required to disclose the extent of his foreign assets saying that such . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Human Rights, Litigation Practice, Intellectual Property, Information, Media

Leading Case

Updated: 09 November 2021; Ref: scu.462500