Musicians in the theatre production ‘War Horse’ lose their legal bid


[co-author: Chris Elliott]

Musicians employed by the National Theatre in its production of War Horse at the New London Theatre have been refused their application for an interim injunction, or alternatively specific performance, to require the National Theatre to continue to engage them in the production until the trial of their claim.

On 4 March 2014 the National Theatre sent the musicians notice of termination of their contracts, taking the decision to cut live music from the show for artistic and financial reasons.

In applying the test for interim relief set out in the case law, Mr Justice Cranston was convinced that there was a serious issue to be tried on the question of whether the National Theatre was contractually entitled to terminate the claimants’ contracts on the grounds set out in its 4 March 2014 letters, finding the claimants’ case to have a strong likelihood of success at trial. 

However, the judge was not convinced that specific performance or a mandatory injunction requiring the National Theatre to re-engage the musicians in the War Horse production would be granted at trial, relying on the long held view that the remedy of specific performance should not be available to require an employer who had wrongfully dismissed employees to take them back, on the basis that it would be inappropriate for the court to enforce the contract by specific performance where there has been a breakdown of trust and confidence between the parties and due to the question of whether re-engagement is workable.  The court also emphasised that an interim injunction would interfere with the National Theatre’s right of artistic freedom, protected by Article of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Read the full judgment here.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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