Court blocks use of civil suit data for police report

Firm had asked to be allowed to give cops info it found in civil proceedings

A JUDGE refused to allow confidential information obtained by a plaintiff in a civil suit to be used in a police report against the same defendants, making clear that civil and criminal proceedings differ even if they arise from the same facts.

Justice Choo Han Teck spelt out the difference between the two in a rare case in which one party tried to use information gathered for a civil suit to support a criminal investigation.

In the case, cloud-based payroll and human resource management solutions firm I-Admin (Singapore) had sued two former employees who joined a rival firm about 15 months after leaving their former company.

I-Admin claimed that the two women breached the confidentiality clause in their contracts by taking data from their software programs and downloading them into their new company's system.

The information included the personal and private information of I-Admin's clients, which included banks and large corporations.

I-Admin sued former employee Hong Ying Ting and three other parties not named in the judgment. The three comprise the other former I-Admin staff, the rival company and a director who owned a 46 per cent share in the rival.

I-Admin, represented by Rajah & Tann lawyers Lionel Tan and Jocelyn Chan, then obtained court orders to seize computers belonging to the rival firm and hired experts to study the software and mechanism of these computers.

But a deal had been reached between the opposing parties to reduce the risk of confidential documents being used outside the litigation.

I-Admin then went to court for permission to provide police with a copy of the extracted materials to show that a previous report lodged by the defendants was false.

Allen & Gledhill Senior Counsel Stanley Lai and lawyer Clara Tung objected for the defendants, pointing out that the purpose of extracting the information from them had solely been to produce an expert's report.

In a judgment released yesterday, Justice Choo said that while I-Admin is entitled to make a police report, it is not necessary to show police the information found in the computers.

He said people are entitled to make a police report if they think a criminal offence may have been committed, adding that "it is against the public interest to prevent the making of such complaints".

"I find there are no exceptional circumstances justifying the release of such information for the purposes of making a police report and, in fact, it would be unduly prejudicial to the defendants if it were so allowed," said the judge.

"The police can invoke their own powers to seize the information. The police may then verify whether the information is true and whether the matter can be referred to the public prosecutor for criminal proceedings to commence."

vijayan@sph.com.sg

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 20, 2015, with the headline 'Court blocks use of civil suit data for police report'. Print Edition | Subscribe