Categories
Business and Company Law

Liquidator Refused Access by High Court to Company’s Gmail Account

The liquidator of a Dublin company, with debts of over €600,000, has been refused access by the High Court to the Gmail account of the company.

The company had one director and shareholder, Mr Jawad Khan, who told the liquidator that all the business of the company was conducted through this free Gmail account. He gave log in details to the liquidator but the liquidator was unable to gain access.

The liquidator also discovered at some point that UK authorities were investigating the use of criminal property to purchase vehicles for the company.

The liquidator contacted Google and told Google that he believed the account had been used for fraudulent activity and there may have been an attempt to conceal evidence through this account. He wanted Google to give him full access to the account.

Google refused on the grounds of its obligations to afford privacy rights to its users. Google also asserted the liquidator had failed to provide any or sufficient evidence that the company records or books were contained in the Gmail account. It told the liquidator it should seek a Norwich Pharmacal Order from the High Court which would direct Google to provide the subscriber information associated with the account.

High Court

The High Court pointed out that the High Court could only use its discretionary powers against a contributor, trustee, receiver, banker, agent, or officer of the company in question. in order to succeed the High Court said that Google would have to be found in one of these groups.

The High Court also held that there was no implied right to force the Court to order Google give access to the account. Moreover, even if there was such a right the High Court held that the liquidator had failed to put forward evidence that the Gmail account contained books or records of the company.

That is, the liquidator had failed to adduce evidence that the company had an intellectual property right in any of the content of the Gmail account in question.

Takeaways

  1. Would an application for a Norwich Pharmacal order have succeeded?
  2. The barriers facing liquidators appear to be significant if company information and affairs are to be found in personal email accounts of directors or officers of the company
  3. Google takes privacy and data protection seriously

Read the full decision here SJK Wholesale Limited (In Liquidation) v Companies Act 2014 [2020] IEHC 196.