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Norwich Pharmacal1 relief has long been an essential part of the fraud fighting toolkit, allowing parties to begin to identify the perpetrators and the flow of assets, in pursuit of a remedy. Other pre-action disclosure options include pre-action disclosure and Bankers Trust orders2.

In this article, we consider the background to and the test for Norwich Pharmacal relief, the effect of Green v CT Group3 and Davidoff v Google4 on the availability of relief under the jurisdiction and potential future implications.

Norwich Pharmacal Relief: Background and Test

In the Norwich Pharmacal case (from which the relief takes its name), Customs and Excise publicised that consignments of a chemical, patented by the Norwich Pharmacal Company, had been imported into the UK. The Norwich Pharmacal Company subsequently issued an application against Customs and Excise, seeking disclosure of the traders’ identity so that a patent infringement claim could be commenced.

There have been various iterations of the requisite elements of the test for Norwich Pharmacal relief, which were recently summarised in Collier v Bennett5:

  1. The applicant must demonstrate a good arguable case that a form of legally recognised wrong has been committed against them by a person (the “Arguable Wrong Condition”);
  2. The respondent must be mixed up in, so as to have facilitated, the wrongdoing (the “Mixed Up Condition”);
  3. The respondent must be able, or likely able, to provide the information or documents necessary to enable the ultimate wrongdoer to be pursued (the “Possession Condition”); and
  4. Requiring disclosure from the respondent must be an appropriate and proportionate response in all the circumstances of the case, bearing in mind the exceptional but flexible nature of the jurisdiction (the “Overall Justice Condition”).

It is important to note that when considering an application for Norwich Pharmacal relief, the first three conditions above are threshold hurdles to each be passed, before the Overall Justice Condition can be considered. However, factors considered at the Arguable Wrong phase will often feed into the Overall Justice Condition considerations – e.g. the strength of the evidence of the underlying wrong complained of (as was the case in Green).

Provided the above conditions are satisfied, and the RFU/Viagogo6 factors considered (see below), then the Court has discretion to make a Norwich Pharmacal order. We consider each of these factors in further detail below.

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1 Norwich Pharmacal -v- Customs and Excise Commissioners [1974] 1 AC 133
2 Bankers Trust Company v Shapira and others [1980] 1 WLR 1274
3 Linda May Green v CT Group Holdings Limited [2023] EWHC 3168 (Comm)
4 Davidoff & Ors v Google LLC [2023] EWHC 1958 (KB)
5 Collier v Bennett [2020] EWHC 1884 (QB), [35] (Saini J), as subsequently approved by the Privy Council in Stanford Asset Holdings Ltd v Afrasiab Bank Ltd (Mauritius) [2023] UKPC 35
6 The Rugby Football Union -v- Consolidated Information Services Limited (formerly Viagogo Limited) [2012] UKSC 55, [17]

Kit Smith (Managing Associate) and Nathan Tidd (Paralegal) are members of Keidan Harrison’s Dispute Resolution team.