A City solicitor who caused the destruction of material subject to a court order in ‘spontaneous act of colossal stupidity’ was today fined £25,000 for contempt. Passing judgment this afternoon on Raymond McKeeve, a former partner with City firm Jones Day, Mr Justice Adam Johnson said 'This is plainly a serious matter but not of such character as to warrant a custodial sentence'.
McKeeve was found in contempt in August by intentionally causing the destruction of documentary material, an encrypted 3CX messaging system, that were part of a court order made following an application by retailer Ocado in an action concerning breach of contract. The 50-year-old told the court that he ‘panicked’ after speaking to his client and sent 'a burn it' instruction to an IT manager. He denied contempt, saying he had no experience of search orders and did not intend for any documents to be destroyed.
The judge described McKeeve's conduct as a ‘spontaneous act of colossal stupidity’.
Passing sanction today, Johnson said that in ordering the destruction of material McKeeve 'did exactly the opposite of what his role and his professional duties required'.
'The system of the court making search orders is in large part dependent on the parties legal advisers acting responsibly in the course of their execution. Mr McKeeve intentionally failed to do so,' the judge added.
However he noted that there is 'little doubt' that McKeeve appreciates the seriousness of his actions and 'felt a sense of shame and embarrassment about what he had done'. McKeeve is no longer working as a solicitor, the judgment states. Mitigating factors included McKeeve's previous good character, the judge said.
He ruled that Ocado should be entitled to recover 60% of its trial costs, which now total some £1.1m.
Ocado welcomed the decision. A spokesperson said: 'It was important to Ocado to bring Mr McKeeve's conduct to the court's attention as the entire system of search orders would collapse if solicitors were able to obstruct them or interfere with them, with impunity. This was the right thing, and as a result the solicitor was found to be liable for criminal contempt of court.'