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An extraordinary & unprecedented case as the High Court finds a solicitor guilty of criminal contempt of court for destroying documents in response to a Search Order  

10/08/2022

On 3 August 2022, Mr Justice Adam Johnson held that Raymond McKeeve – a leading private equity lawyer – was guilty of criminal contempt of court.

  • By destroying documents in response to a Search Order and thwarting the purpose of that order, Mr McKeeve intentionally interfered with the administration of justice.
  • The facts of this case are extraordinary and unprecedented.

The facts of this case Ocado Group Plc v Raymond McKeeve [2022] EWHC 2079 (Ch) - https://www.oeclaw.co.uk/images/uploads/judgments/Ocado_v._McKeeve_.pdf

  1. In July 2019, Ocado brought a claim against a former manager of Ocado, Mr Faiman, and his business Today Development Partners (“TDP”), alleging a conspiracy to misuse Ocado’s confidential information.
  2. On 3 July 2019, Ocado obtained a Search Order against them.
  3. On 4 July 2019, Mr McKeeve, then a partner at a leading law firm, was notified that Ocado had obtained a Search Order against his client and friend, Mr Faiman.
  4. Mr McKeeve’s immediate reaction was to contact the IT technician at TDP and instruct him to “burn it”.
  5. Mr McKeeve then rang the IT technician to repeat this instruction orally.
  6. As a result, a covert messaging application called “3CX”, which had been used by the alleged conspirators, was irretrievably deleted, and the messages on it were not handed over during the execution of the Search Order.
Courts concluded
  1. Following a 6-day trial in June to July 2022, Mr Justice Adam Johnson found that Mr McKeeve’s actions on 4 July 2019 constituted criminal contempt of court.
  2. Mr McKeeve knew the purpose of the Search Order, and he intentionally took steps to thwart that purpose.
Mr Justice Adam Johnson concluded (beyond reasonable doubt):
  1. The 3CX application contained
    • “documents relevant to [Ocado’s] claim” including “messages, records of voice calls … and records of voicemails, which would have been disclosable in the course of that claim” (para 262).
  2. The 3CX application contained documents which were ‘Listed Items’ within the definition of the Search Order.
    • “As a result of Mr McKeeve’s actions, those documents were destroyed. That involved an interference with the administration of justice, because the purpose of the Order … was to allow them to be identified by means of a search.  That did not happen and as a result of Mr McKeeve’s intervention was in fact was rendered impossible” (para 271).
    • Mr McKeeve acted with the specific intention to frustrate the purpose of the Search Order. The purpose of the Search Order “was to require the contents of the 3CX App to be searched … Mr McKeeve knew that [purpose] and indeed his own stated intention was to prevent it being searched. He thus interfered with the due administration of justice, as reflected in the Search Order” (para 276).
    • The search of the 3CX application and its contents would have “yielded results” and as such Mr McKeeve’s conduct had a “significant and adverse effect on the administration of justice” (para 275).

A hearing to determine consequential matters, including Mr McKeeve’s sentence, will take place on 4 October 2022.

Source

https://www.oeclaw.co.uk/images/uploads/judgments/Ocado_v._McKeeve_.pdf

https://www.oeclaw.co.uk/news/view/high-court-finds-solicitor-guilty-of-criminal-contempt-of-court-for-destroying-documents-in-response-to-a-search-order

UNITED KINGDOM