Rank 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 decided that the court should abstain from making an order ex parte requiring immediate answers to interrogatories or disclosure of documents when it can see that the defendant would be in danger of self-incrimination, and all requirements to answer those interrogatories or to disclose documents were deleted from the order originally made at first instance.
Held: The appeal was dismissed. The privilege against self-incrimination was capable of being invoked. The test is as to whether there is a ‘real and appreciable risk of criminal proceedings . . being taken against’ the witness.
Lord Wilberforce said: ‘However, it is only too clear (and I deliberately use the language of reluctance) that supply of the information and production of the documents sought would tend to expose the respondents to a charge of conspiracy to defraud . . A charge of conspiracy to defraud, so far from being as it sometimes is, a contrived addition to other charges, is here an appropriate and exact description of what was being done . . Unless some escape can be devised from this conclusion, the privilege must inevitably attach.’ and
‘Mr. Nicholls was at pains to make clear that he was not, in these submissions, attempting to negate or undermine the privilege against self-incrimination. This has been too long established in our law as a basic liberty of the subject – in other countries it has constitutional status – to be denied. It has received modern recognition in section 14 of the Civil Evidence Act 1968 and in this House.’
The protection extended to material the discovery of which which might ‘Set in train a process which may lead to incrimination or may lead to the discovery of real evidence of an incriminating character.’
‘It may seem to be a strange paradox that the worse, ie the more criminal, their [ie the defendants’] activities can be made to appear, the less effective is the civil remedy that can be granted, but that, prima facie, is what the privilege achieves.’ and ‘This has been too long established in our law as a basic liberty of the subject (in other countries it has constitutional status) to be denied.’ ‘It is certainly correct to say, that existing law and practice to some extent prevent matter disclosed on discovery in civil proceedings from being used to the prejudice of the disclosing party. The protection is described with different words: the matter must not be used for an ‘improper’ purpose’ or a ‘collateral object’ or, most strongly, ‘otherwise than in the action, in which they are disclosed’.
Lord Fraser of Tullybelton: ‘At one stage, the argument seemed to depend on the possibility that the court which ordered the discovery might place an express restriction on the use of any information disclosed. In my opinion, any argument on that basis must be rejected. A restriction by the court making the order would, no doubt, be effective to bind the party who obtained the order, but it can hardly be suggested that it would be effective to prevent a prosecutor in the public interest from using, or an English criminal court (a fortiori a Scottish criminal court if a conspiracy were prosecuted in Scotland) from admitting the information in evidence at a trial. All evidence which is relevant is prima facie admissible in a criminal trial, although the trial judge has a discretion to exclude evidence which, though admissible, has been obtained by unfair means from the accused after commission of the offence: Reg. v. Sang [1980] AC 402. But it is obvious that a person who has to rely on an exercise of judicial discretion is in a less secure position than one who, by relying on the privilege, can avoid providing the information in the first place. ‘ and ‘The main basis of the argument was an implied rule, said to be derived from the case of Riddick v. Thames Board Mills Ltd. [1977] QB 881, to the effect that evidence which has been disclosed under compulsion in a civil action cannot be used against a person who has disclosed if for the purposes of another civil action or of a criminal prosecution. It was argued that any incriminating information disclosed by a person making discovery or answering interrogatories would enjoy complete protection by reason of that rule, because the information would have been given under compulsion, in respect that refusal to give it would be contempt of court. I would make one preliminary observation on that argument. It seems to me to go much too far. If it is well-founded, it means that the established practice whereby judges warn witnesses that they need not answer questions addressed to them in oral examination in court, if the answers might tend to incriminate them, is unnecessary, because refusal to answer would, in the absence of the warning, be contempt of court and any incriminating evidence having been given under compulsion would not be admissible against them in criminal proceedings. I approach a proposition leading to that result with some scepticism. In any event, the case of Riddick was concerned only with the question of the use to which documents recovered on discovery could be put by the party who had obtained discovery. Lord Denning M.R. at p. 896H, stated the principle in a sentence thus: ‘A party who seeks discovery of documents gets it on condition that he will make use of them only for the purposes of that action, and for no other purpose’ (emphasis added). That statement of principle would have to be extended to include cases such as Norwich Pharmacal Co. v. Customs and Excise Commissioners [1974] AC 133, where an order was made for discovery of information for the purpose of its being used in another action. The principle is, I think, that information is not to be used by the party who gets discovery for purposes other than that for which production was ordered. But the case of Riddick had nothing to do with the use of information for prosecution in the public interest. On the contrary, both Lord Denning M.R. at p.896 and Stephenson L.J. at p.901, referred with approval to the observations of Talbot J. in Distillers Co. (Biochemicals) Ltd. v. Times Newspapers [1975] QB 613, 621, recognising that there might be a public interest in favour of disclosure which would override the public interest in the administration of justice which goes to preserve the confidentiality of documents disclosed on discovery. That is clearly correct. If a defendant’s answers to interrogatories tend to show that he has been guilty of a serious offence I cannot think that there would be anything improper in his opponent reporting the matter to the criminal authorities with a view to prosecution, certainly if he had first obtained leave from the court which ordered the interrogatories, and probably without such leave. If that is right the object of the privilege against self-incrimination would not be completely achieved by relying on any rule which can be derived from Riddick v. Thames Board Mills Ltd. [1977] QB 881.’


Lord Wilberforce, Templeman L


[1982] AC 380, [1981] 2 All ER 76, [1981] 2 WLR 668


England and Wales


Appeal FromRank Film Distributors v Video Information Centre CA 1980
The plaintiff film companies accused the defendants of pirating their films. They obtained Anton Piller orders which required the defendants to permit the plaintiffs to enter their premises to inspect and remove any unauthorised films, and three . .
CitedRasu Maritima SA v Perusahaan (the Pertamina) CA 1978
Section 45 of the 1925 Act gives the court a very wide discretion to grant an injunction. . .
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 . .

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Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Litigation Practice, Intellectual Property

Updated: 19 November 2022; Ref: scu.230905