Whether in the commercial sphere or when dealing with consumers, the ancient and haphazard rule that contract terms must not be penal in nature has not weathered well and is often a source of confusion.
The power of English courts to freeze assets is global in scope and breach of such orders can result in heavy fines and even loss of liberty. However, in one case, the Court of Appeal has ruled that a businessman was wrongly handed a prison sentence on the basis of inadequate evidence.
Champagne houses are well known for their success in jealously protecting their brands against those who take unfair advantage of their sparkling reputations. In one example, the makers of a premium Champagne triumphed in a High Court trade mark infringement action against the producers of a Spanish cava.
The effect of state intervention in the banking sector, triggered by the financial crisis, has come under the spotlight in a High Court dispute in which lenders are seeking to recover an $835 million loan made to a troubled Portuguese bank.
In an age in which members of the international business community call no country home and assets are held by nominees in a multiplicity of overseas vehicles, the enforcement of court judgments can be an intensely difficult process.
Selling a business is rarely a matter of simply taking the money and walking away and one High Court case revealed that particularly tricky issues can arise when contractual obligations pass from seller to buyer as part of the deal.
Private finance initiatives (PFIs) seemed a very good way of raising money for public projects before the recession – but many of them have since gone sour. That was certainly so in one case where a local authority and a contractor had to resort to the High Court to resolve their increasingly bitter differences.
A pharmaceutical company which obtained an injunction to protect its patent rights in respect of one of its most successful products ended up being hit with a record £27 million damages bill after the order turned out to have been wrongly granted.
The Treasury must face the full brunt of an Iranian bank’s multi-billion-pound damages claim after it was unlawfully shut out of the UK financial sector as international sanctions against Iran were implemented.
A company has succeeded in establishing that tax advice given to it by its lawyers in the wake of a Euros 1.5 billion corporate merger was inadequate. However, its claim for damages ultimately failed in a case which underlined the duty of professional negligence victims to help themselves and take steps to minimise their losses.
High-value public procurement disputes are an ever-increasing feature of the legal landscape and, in one such case, a council has come under fire in respect of its decision to strip an NHS trust of a services contract worth more than £40 million.
The consequences of commercial deceit can come back to haunt businesses many years after the event, as a natural resources company discovered to its cost almost 20 years after it perpetrated a $40 million fraud on the Romanian state.
Widespread imitation of original fashion designs poses a perennial problem for the clothing industry. However, the High Court has come down hard on importers of a range of jeans which were ‘copied’ from a leading brand.
The trans-European market in branded goods came under the spotlight as the Court of Appeal placed the emphasis on free trade and opened the way for a parallel importer of pharmaceuticals to buy up stocks of a leading drug in Germany and France before re-labelling the product and importing it into the UK.
In a case which illustrated the pitfalls which so often arise in contractual relationships between the private and public sectors, care home owners have triumphed in their High Court fight to overturn a cap on the fees they receive from a local authority.
Copyright infringement actions are a highly effective means of protecting original ideas from exploitation by copycats. However, one High Court case concerning floral designs on bed linen underlined that you need to be very sure of your ground before accusing others of plagiarism.
Commercial contracts often specify how compensation should be calculated in the event of a breach. However, in one important case involving the shutdown of a North Sea gas field, the High Court has considered whether such terms debar injured parties from also claiming damages.
Damages awards for breach of contract are not calculated in accordance with arcane formulae by modern judges, who adhere to the principle that compensation should reflect losses actually suffered. That was certainly so in one case in which ship owners won more than $1.2 million from a charterer who backed out of a deal.
Intransigence in commercial disputes can be extremely costly and it is always preferable to attempt to reach a compromise. In one case which gave a valuable insight, the estimated legal costs of litigating a building contract dispute in respect of works carried out at a football stadium came to more than the sum at stake.
It is surprising how often even the most complex and valuable commercial litigation comes down to a simple matter of timing. In one example, multi-billion-pound claims in respect of alleged anti-competitive conduct in the credit and debit card market were cut down to size by the Court of Appeal.
A failure to disclose the true nature and extent of a risk can render insurance policies not worth the paper they are written on. In one case which proved the point, a tunnelling contractor which was facing multi-million-pound claims in the wake of a train derailment had its insurance declared void by the High Court.
Frequent restructuring and transfers of liabilities within the insurance industry can make it hard to discern where legal responsibility for payment protection insurance (PPI) mis-selling should lie. However, in one case, the High Court has ruled that the financial burden must fall on the company which originally sold the policies.
Any good law firm will advise its clients to compromise if possible, rather than fight their differences out in court. In one case, the High Court lamented that a relatively low value contract dispute ended up being litigated on a grand scale, resulting in legal costs bills which came to more than double the sum at stake.
Long-standing business relationships can lead to tangled contractual arrangements, as one company discovered when its £8.2 million damages claim against a former client it had dealt with for many years was cut down to size by the High Court.
The apportionment of risk in international trade is a common source of dispute and, in one such case, the High Court has come to the aid of a shipping company which was left holding a $17.5 million compensation bill after a poor harvest in the Ukraine led to tight restrictions on the export of grain.
The maintenance of confidentiality is often a vexed issue in commercial litigation and a case in which a pharmaceutical company was accused of breaching competition rules in respect of the marketing of a heart disease drug was no exception.
In a ruling of crucial significance to those engaged in international trade, the Court of Appeal has emphasised that cargos are not insured against high seas piracy unless cover for such risks is specifically included in shipping contracts.
Two companies, each of which claims the other should bear the heavy burden of a cost over-run during construction of a waste-to-energy plant, had to resort to the High Court to make sense of their respective contractual obligations.
In a warning to businesses that the drafting of commercial contracts by laymen is fraught with risk, a lack of precision in an agreement between a golf club and its caterers resulted in lengthy court proceedings and substantial legal costs bills.
In a warning to those who contract with the public sector that they can face painful sanctions if they fail to come up to the mark, a company which was hired to provide interpreters for court hearings nationwide has been ordered to pay more than £13,000 after 'serial failures' caused delays in an adoption case.