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Diverse Communities Have Diverse Business Methods – But English Law Is Supreme!

In a diverse society, close-knit minority communities often have their own distinctive ways of doing business. However, as a man engaged in the unauthorised and potentially dangerous refilling of liquid petroleum gas (LPG) canisters discovered to his cost, in England, the full force of English law applies.

In common with other legitimate LPG suppliers, the owner of the branded canisters provided them pre-filled to customers through authorised dealers. Ownership of the canisters did not pass with the contents and, when emptied, clients were required to return them to the supplier to be refilled. Unauthorised refilling posed a direct threat to the supplier’s business and created significant risks of fire or explosion.

Following a tip-off, the supplier discovered that the man’s company had been refilling its canisters without authority and on a substantial scale. Faced with legal action, the man gave formal undertakings on his company’s behalf that that unlawful activity would cease forthwith and agreed to pay the supplier’s legal costs.

However, subsequent test purchases revealed that the unauthorised refilling had continued and the supplier launched proceedings against the man and his company, alleging contempt of court. The man’s lawyers pointed out that he speaks very little English and that his company serves a largely closed community in which business is conducted on trust, by word of mouth. Within that community, formal legal relationships were unusual to the point of being alien.

In upholding the supplier’s claim, however, the High Court found that, whatever the cultural differences, the man was capable of living normally in the Western world in which he had settled, and was sophisticated enough to use bank accounts and understand transactions. He was aware that he faced formal litigation, with significant financial consequences, and that unauthorised refilling was forbidden.

The unlawful activity had been intentional, in that it continued to take place with his knowledge and approval, and he knew full well that his employees were routinely acting in breach of the undertakings. The Court would hear further argument as to the appropriate penalties to impose on the man and his company for their proven acts of contempt.



 
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