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County Court has power to refer contempt cases to Attorney-General

In the case of Utopia Tableware LTD v (1) BBP Marketing Ltd (2) British Bung Manufacturing Co Ltd [2013] EWPCC 28 Mr Justice Birss (sitting as a judge of the Patents County Court) ruled judges in the County Court are able to refer matters to the Attorney-General to consider whether contempt of court proceedings should be brought.

The background to the claim concerned the design of the defendant's beer glasses, which the claimant claimed had obstructed its design rights and the alleged passing off.  At a hearing in December 2012 the claimant sought an interim injunction to prohibit sales of the product. The claimant was reliant upon emails from their distributors, expressing apparent concern regarding the claimants product.  An interim injunction was granted for the duration of a month.

In January 2013 the defendants admitted they had copied the claimant's designs, however they repeatedly questioned the genuineness of the emails - on the foundation that they were dated prior to the claimants product being launched.  In response, the witnesses party to the case defended the validity and genuineness of the emails, clarifying that the reasoning for the earlier date of the emails was due to the claimants employees leaking the design information. An injunction was granted in favour of the claimant although, only on the basis of obstruction of their design rights.  Following this, the claimant sought to drop the passing off claim entirely. The defendants continued to question the validity of the emails and in April 2013 the witnesses admitted to having requested the distributors to send the emails, instructing them as to the content and altering the date.

The claimant's lawyers tried to argue that the Patents County Court had no authority under the Civil Procedure Rules (specifically r.81.18) to make any reference to the Attorney“General and that the matter did not have a serious impact on the case.  The Court held that the context of the claim was irrelevant. The falsifying of emails, tampering with dates and repeatedly reaffirming the lie amounted to a serious contempt of court.  The decision to utilise public resources and the timing of any committal application was considered to be a matter for the Attorney-General as the contempt in the circumstances were of a sufficient gravity.

A full copy of the judgment can be found here:


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