Insurance Broker Granted Interim Injunctive Relief Preventing A Competitor From Taking Steps To Poach Its Remaining Staff

Author:Ms Susannah Wakefield and Anna McCaffrey
Profession:Taylor Wessing
 
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(1) Willis Limited (2) Willis Group Limited v (1) Jardine Lloyd Thompson Group plc (2) JLT Speciality Limited (3) David Gordon [2015] AC 9301548

English Court of Appeal, 22 April 2015

The Court of Appeal was asked to review a refusal to grant interim injunctive relief to a broker who had lost a large number of senior employees to a competitor. 

Background

The proceedings arose following the departure of almost all of Willis' senior management team within its fine art, jewellery and special risk division London, who had all left to join JLT Speciality Limited (referred to collectively as "JLT" in this note). Willis considered JLT to be a direct competitor in the sector, and lost 30 of its senior employees over a short period to JLT, including its former divisional global manager. 

JLT denied any wrongdoing and claimed that it had individually recruited all of Willis' senior employees without inducing anyone else to breach any obligations owed to Willis.

Following the departure of Willis' senior employees, Willis was left with 30 junior employees in its fine art, jewellery and special risk division. Given the sudden departure of a significant proportion of its staff, Willis considered that there was serious risk that it would also lose its junior employees to JLT. Willis applied to the court for an interim injunction preventing JLT taking steps to recruit any more of its staff.

Refusal to grant interim injunction at first instance

At first instance, it was held that there was a serious issue to be tried (based on prima facie evidence) as to whether there had been a relevant breach of contract. However, the first instance Court concluded that, pending full determination of the issues at trial, there was no point in granting an interim injunction in the meantime. The Judge's reasoning centred on the fact that he had concluded that "the heart had been torn out of [Willis'] business", or, in other words, the damage had already been done and an interim injunction could not remedy this. It was also considered that there was no obvious attraction of the remaining junior employees to JLT.  Finally, as Willis' US employees were employed by other subsidiaries of Willis (rather than the Willis UK companies involved in the proceedings) that those subsidiaries would have to seek protection in their own right.

It is notable that the Judge does not appear to have considered the balance of convenience in determining the initial application. The balance of convenience...

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