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Norwich Pharmacal Orders: What, Why and How?

Written by Mark Reed on 12 April 2019

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Lawdit Solicitors have a specialist department that deals with Norwich Pharmacal Orders throughout the year. A Norwich Pharmacal Order or an ‘NPO’ is essentially the product of Norwich Pharmacal v Commissioners of Customs & Excise [1974] UKHL 6 and acts as a form of disclosure order which is made by a judge under the equitable jurisdiction of the court.

Of course, this explains nothing without understanding what is being disclosed. An NPO would normally been sought when there has been some type of wrongdoing against one party but it is not actually known who the identity is of the person in the wrong. Still confused, well an example can be seen using the Norwich Pharmacal case. In Norwich Pharmacal, Customs & Excise had published information revealing that a number of shipments of a particular chemical compound (patented by Norwich Pharmacal) had been imported into the UK without a licence which would be a breach of Norwich Pharmacal patent rights. Norwich Pharmacal had no cause of action against Customs & Excise and sought disclosure of the names of the wrongdoers who had imported the patented compound. The House of Lords held that Customs & Excise were under a duty to disclose the information sought.

It is important to note that this type of order is usually obtained to assist in another legal claim such as defamation as in the Totalise plc v The Motley Fool Ltd [2001] EWHC 706 (QB) case which concerned the identity of a party who was posting defamatory material on a website. Other examples of cases involving an order being sort are to Identify the full nature of the wrongdoing and enable you to plead your case; Obtain the source of information contained in a publication; Trace assets and proprietary claims; In aid of execution of a judgment; and to enable the victim of a wrongdoing to answer allegations made against him.

It will also be no surprise that an NPO will often be sought against newspapers that receive and publish information after receiving documents in breach of confidence and the court then orders for the newspaper to reveal the identity of the source. An interesting case in this regard was X Ltd v Morgan-Grampian (Publishers) Ltd [1991] 1 AC 1 which also saw the claimant obtain a without notice injunction to prevent a magazine from publishing an article that had confidential information within it. This was on top of the request for the disclosure of the journalist's notes that the claimant was hoping would identify the informant. It was held that the journalist and the publishers were within the Norwich Pharmacal principles, because it was to protect the claimant from other tortious dissemination of confidential information as well as being in the interests of justice.

All of the above is not overly helpful unless you know how to apply for an NPO and how much it costs. Depending on the circumstances, the application may be made under a Part 8 claim form or under CPR 23 which essentially is the filing of a form that outlines the claim including any evidence and usually in the form of a witness statement. If the NPO is sought to assist in an on-going claim there would be a different application filed, of which courts will assist in this process.

The cost of an NPO is different to a standard proceeding where the costs are paid to the party that wins. If an NPO is ordered then usually it is the applicant that will pay both the legal costs of the respondent and any costs incurred for the respondent to comply with the order. Of course, this will not always be the case, especially in some instances such as in the Totalise case above where an applicant can be awarded some of its costs.

Lastly, if an NPO has been granted then the respondent will have it served on them in person and there must be allowances for any specific requirements with the NPO such as gagging orders etc.

The process has had some media attention over the years and can prove useful and is certainly necessary. Check out these two cases which both became a talking point; McAlpine v Bercow [2014] EMLR 3 and also the Monroe v Hopkins [2017] EWHC 433 (QB).

Please keep Lawdit Solicitors in mind if there is ever a situation that may require an application for an NPO.
If you'd like to know more about this article please send an email to Michael Coyle quoting the article title and any questions you might have, alternatively call the office number on 02380 235 979 or send an enquiry through our contact form.

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