Rebekah Vardy v Coleen Rooney: WAGs war and the law – Part 2
This article is the second in our series discussing the ongoing legal battle between Rebekah Vardy and Coleen Rooney.
Part one of the series explored the court’s warning not to delay applications or overlook the provisions of the CPR. In part two, we consider the lessons to be learned from this case regarding disclosure.
Disclosure is an essential part of the litigation process. Parties to litigation have strict, ongoing obligations to take a “cards on the table” approach to disclosure. A failure to comply with these obligations can result in sanctions.
CPR 31.6 sets out the rules for standard disclosure. Under these rules, a party must disclose the documents on which they rely and any documents that adversely effect their own case or support the other party’s case.
Application for disclosure
Due to a software glitch, Mrs Rooney’s representatives were able to see material that Mrs Vardy’s representatives had attempted to redact. Mrs Rooney argued these failed redactions demonstrated that Mrs Vardy had not met her standard disclosure obligations. Mrs Rooney therefore sought an order for disclosure on a “train of enquiry” basis.
The court considered the highly unusual circumstances in which some of Mrs Vardy’s disclosure was not available, being:
- The deletion of all images, audio files and videos from Mrs Vardy’s WhatsApp communications with Ms Watt during a transfer of the data to her solicitors.
- Ms Watt accidentally dropping her phone in the sea – allegedly, Ms Watts was on a boat trip, when the boat hit a wave, causing her phone to fall overboard.
- The deletion of a key WhatsApp exchange between Mrs Vardy and a journalist with The Sun.
- The deletion of a Twitter account operated by Ms Watt.
However, it was noted that the law on train of enquiry disclosure provides that such an application is exceptional, should only be granted if it is necessary for fairly disposing of the proceedings, and must be properly focused on what precise disclosure is said to be necessary to that fair disposal of proceedings. The court therefore declined to make an order for disclosure beyond that which was required by standard disclosure.
In relation to the redactions of Mrs Vardy’s WhatsApp messages, the court stated that “in circumstances where, in the midst of a WhatsApp account that appears on its face (and I do not understand it to be disputed) to concern the defendant, the claimant states that she would “love to leak those stories”, I do not accept that it is open to the claimant’s representatives to make the determination, on the basis of their client’s instructions, that she was not referring to stories about the defendant”. The court went on to say that information cannot be withheld “if it is plain on the face of the document that there is a credible alternative interpretation which would support the opposing party’s case and on which they would be bound to rely if the document is disclosed”.
The full judgment made by the court can be read here.
It is clear from this case that the court will take a rigorous approach to disclosure, and it is therefore important to ensure that disclosure obligations are complied with from the very outset of the dispute. For guidance on the disclosure process, contact our expert commercial litigation team on 020 7632 4300 or make an enquiry.