A Cornwall-based autism charity has paid an initial £40,000 in costs to a commercial rival at the end of a two-and-a-half-year legal battle.
Spectrum, a charity that runs specialist homes in Devon and Cornwall, claimed breach of confidence against Green Light PBS, a company that provides residential care for people with autism and learning disabilities, and three of Spectrum’s former employees, who now work for Green Light.
The charity alleged that that the company and the former staff members had made use of five types of confidential financial information in Green Light’s commercial activities, including knowledge of its employees’ names and addresses and the identity of its service users.
Court proceedings began in May 2011 at Truro County Court, but in September 2012 the case was struck out by Recorder Douglas Campbell at the Patents County Court at the Rolls Building in London.
Campbell ruled that Spectrum’s claims had "abused the court’s process" and had "no real prospect of success". He said that the purpose of the litigation was the harassment of competitors and former employees.
Spectrum was ordered at the time to pay the defendants’ costs, but was granted the right to appeal on a single limited ground relating to the order made by Campbell.
In June 2013, Spectrum’s application to appeal against both the judgment and costs ruling was refused by Mr Justice Birss in the Chancery Division of the High Court of Justice.
Spectrum was granted 14 days to make submissions on the single ground allowed by Campbell but failed to do so. And on 16 September Spectrum withdrew its final appeal.
Green Light said that Spectrum had agreed to make an interim payment of £40,000 towards Green Light’s costs. The company's solicitor said today that the money had been paid.
Green Light estimated that costs to Spectrum could reach more than £250,000 once Green Light's costs had been fully assessed by the court.
Spectrum said in a statement that it was "far from clear" where the £250,000 figure had come from, "but it is not founded in fact... It should be noted that Spectrum intends to negotiate hard on any costs on the basis that they were disproportionate."
A statement from Green Light said: "This refusal of leave to appeal and Spectrum’s subsequent withdrawal reinforces the original judgment, a comprehensive rebuke of Spectrum’s conduct of the proceedings and the allegations made. Among the court’s notable findings are that Spectrum had ‘abused the court’s process’, that ‘the proceedings had no real prospect of success’ and the inference that the ‘proceedings were intended to harass ex-employees and a competitor’. We consider these to be the most serious findings against any litigant, particularly so given Spectrum’s charitable status."
Spectrum said in a statement: "It is ironic that Green Light is portraying itself as the victim of this affair. A brief consideration of the background will show that this is at best disingenuous.
"Spectrum is a major south-west charity with a proud history of supporting individuals with autism, learning disabilities and severe challenging behaviour. Green Light is a company that was set up for commercial gain to cater for the same service user group.
"The trustees respectfully accept the legal decision that has been reached by the court. They do not, however, accept that Green Light, nor the ex-employees, have behaved in a morally proper way. The trustees consider that they have acted entirely appropriately in pursuing a course that they believe was right in all the circumstances. They pursued the action in order to protect the interests of both the charity and the people for whom it cares."