Before granting a Norwich Pharmacal Order NPO, the Court will need to be satisfied of the following:-
Evidence that the Respondent is involved in the wrongdoing.
There is much case law in this area as to what is meant by wrongdoing but as Lord Reid stated in the Norwich Pharmacal case itself, the Respondent cannot simply be an “innocent bystander”. There has to be some evidence that the Respondent (whether innocently or not) was mixed up in the wrongdoing.
An example of this is an application made against a telecommunications company for disclosure of the wrongdoers’ contact details in circumstances where it had not been possible to locate that particular individual.
It is even possible to apply for Norwich Pharmacal Orders against lawyers subject to issues of privilege. However, applications against entirely innocent lawyers are unlikely to be granted. Lawyers who, for example, who draft documentation which then enables the wrongdoer to facilitate a fraud could be held subject to an Norwich Pharmacal Order.
The Defendant will not later be called as a witness – the “mere witness” rule
As a general rule, Norwich Pharmacal Orders are not available against individuals who may at a later stage may be called as a witness in the proceedings. This is known as the “mere witness” rule. There are exceptions for example where an Applicant cannot identify the wrongdoer without the information being provided by the party subject to the Norwich Pharmacal Order application.
The interests of justice in making the Order
The Court will also consider the interests of justice when granting a Norwich Pharmacal Order. In so doing, it will balance the following factors when deciding whether to make an Order:-
The likely consequence if the Order were refused.
Whether there are any alternative remedies available.
The potential advantages to the Applicant versus the potential harm to the Respondent.
The nature of the compliance and whether it is likely to be onerous.
Developing area of the law
Norwich Pharmacal Orders are a developing area of the law and there is recent authority (as or writing) for the fact that a Norwich Pharmacal Order could not be challenged on the basis that the information sought might be available from other sources.
This recent case also made it clear that each application before the Court is to be determined on the circumstances of that particular case, taking into account the size and resources of the Applicant, the urgency of its needs to obtain the information and any public interests in having the Applicant’s needs satisfied.
Applying for a Norwich Pharmacal Orders
Much depends on whether the application is urgent or not.
If it is not urgent, then the first port of call is to write to the potential Respondent seeking voluntary disclosure of the information and setting out the reasons why it is sought.
If the Respondent is unable or unwilling to comply then an application to Court might be the only way forward. However seeking the cooperation of a Respondent even in circumstances where it cannot provide the information (for example due to privacy) can still be a useful approach as that information can be put before the Court when asking for an Norwich Pharmacal Order.
Often, for privilege, data protection or other reasons, the Respondent will invite the Applicant to apply for a Norwich Pharmacal Order so that the Respondent can be relieved of its obligations to withhold such information. In such circumstances, as described above, the application should be relatively straightforward and the Applicant will have to provide for the Respondent’s costs in attending the proceedings and complying with the Norwich Pharmacal Order.
In terms of the procedure (both for urgent and non-urgent applications), an application must be supported by a detailed witness statement setting out the following:
The factual background arising to the application;
The nature of the claim sought by the Applicant;
The most likely cause of action against the wrongdoer;
Evidence that the mere witness rule will not be breached;
Evidence that the Respondent has been involved or mixed up in the wrongdoing (although not always necessary);
Specifying which documents or information is being sought and giving reasons for this;
Stating why the Respondent is believed to be in possession of the documents or information;
Stressing the Applicant’s intention to pursue the wrongdoer and not the Respondent.
If dishonesty is being alleged attention should be drawn to this.
That the application is in the interests of justice.
Any apparent basis on which the Respondent may seek to claim privilege against self-incrimination.
Any other relevant factors the Court may consider when exercising its discretion such as criminal activity etc.
Evidence in support of the undertaking in damages.
If the application is made without notice, then the need for urgency needs to be explained.