Norwich pharmacal – from ugandan rendition to ticket touts

In June of this year, I posted about a couple of cases in which Norwich Pharmacal orders (NPOs) had been made against Facebook (see my posts here and here). However, these are by no means the only notable recent examples of NPOs being considered by the court. Other examples, which certainly merit a mention on Panopticon include not least: Rugby Football Union v Viagogo Ltd [2011] EWCA Civ 1585 (NPO requiring disclosure of personal data did not breach the DPA or the DP Directive); Golden Eye v Telefonica [2011] EWHC 723 (Ch) (also concerned with the protection of the rights of data subjects) and R(Omar & Ors) v Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs [2012] EWHC 1737 (Admin) (use of NPO for the purposes of foreign proceedings).

The Norwich Pharmacal Principles

Before examining these cases, it is worth citing from the speech of Lord Reid in Norwich Pharmacal v Customs and Excise Commissioners [1974] AC 133 where Lord Reid characterised the essential nature and purpose of an NPO as follows:

“If through no fault of his own a person gets mixed up in the tortious acts of others so as to facilitate their wrongdoing he may incur no personal liability but he comes under a duty to assist the person who has been wronged by giving him full information and disclosing the identity of the wrongdoers. I do not think that it matters whether he became so mixed up by voluntary action on his part or because it was his duty to do what he did. It may be that if this causes him expense the person seeking the information ought to reimburse him. But justice requires that he should co-operate in righting the wrong if he unwittingly facilitated its perpetration.” (p. 175)

Typically, there are five issues which fall to be considered whenever the court is invited to make an NPO (see further by way of example the Viagogo case).

(1)  Had arguable wrongs been committed against the claimant?

(2)  Was the defendant mixed up in those wrongs in the sense that it had facilitated them, albeit it innocently?

(3)  Was the claimant intending to seek redress for those wrongs?

(4)  Was the disclosure of information via an NPO necessary so as to enable the claimant to pursue that redress?

(5)  Should the court exercise its discretion so as to grant relief?

On the latter point, it is worth noting that the court’s discretion to grant an NPO is equitable in nature. It will exercise that discretion by reference to all the relevant circumstances so as to achieve a result which is just in substance. However, as can be seen from the Viagogo and Golden Eye judgments discussed below, in exercising its discretion the court will also have to take into account any relevant statutory obligations, including for example obligations imposed under the DPA and the Human Rights Act.

It is also worth noting the recent re-statement of the Norwich Pharmacal jurisdiction in President of the State of Equatorial Guinea v RBS International [2006] UKPC 7 where the Privy Council said this about the test of ‘necessity’:

“It is true that in some cases the word “necessary” has been used, echoing or employing the language of order 24, rule 13 of the Rules of the Supreme Court. But, as Templeman LJ observed in British Steel Corporation v Granada Television Limited [1981] AC 1096, 1132, “The remedy of discovery is intended in the final analysis to enable justice to be done”. Norwich Pharmacal relief exists to assist those who have been wronged but do not know by whom. If they have straightforward and available means of finding out, it will not be reasonable to achieve that end by overriding a duty of confidentiality such as that owed by banker to customer. If, on the other hand, they have no straightforward or available, or any, means of finding out, Norwich Pharmacal relief is in principle available if the other conditions of obtaining relief are met. Whether it is said that it must be just and convenient in the interests of justice to grant relief, or that relief should only be granted if it is necessary in the interests of justice to grant it, makes little or no difference of substance”

Viagogo – NPOs and the DPA

In Viagogo, the Rugby Football Union (RFU) sought an NPO against Viagogo (V) on the basis that V had innocently allowed its website to be used by third party individuals so as to advertise the sale of tickets for rugby matches at unduly inflated prices. In essence, the RBU sought to rely on Norwich Pharmacal principles so as to obtain disclosure from V of information identifying the third party individuals who, the RBU claimed, had acted in breach of contract and otherwise tortiously by selling the tickets at inflated prices. The judge at first instance granted the NPO sought by the RBU. V appealed against the order on the basis that it could not be reconciled with the provisions of the DPA or the DP Directive.

V accepted that the DPA and the Directive contained provisions which created exemptions in respect of the disclosure of personal data which was required by order of the court or which was necessary for the purposes of exercising or defending legal rights (see further s. 35 DPA). In light of these exemptions, V also accepted that the Norwich Pharmacal  jurisdiction was not per se incompatible with the DPA and the Directive. However, V argued that, in light of relevant European Court judgments including Satakunnen and Schecke v Land Hessen, disclosure of personal data should only be ordered by the court if this was ‘strictly necessary’ and ‘proportionate’ to the aim sought. V went on to argue that the application made by the RBU did not meet these requirements.

The Court of Appeal rejected V’s appeal. It held that the RFU had made out its case as to arguable wrongdoing by the third party. It also held that Viagogo had effectively been mixed up in that wrongdoing as its website had facilitated the advertising and sales of the tickets. On the question of whether the RFU intended to seek redress, the court rejected arguments to the effect that there was insufficient evidence of such an intention. On this point, the court noted that whilst any damages against the third parties may not be substantial, the RFU was still in a position to seek to protect its position by obtaining injunctive relief. The court also accepted that the order was necessary as the RFU had no other means of identifying the alleged wrongdoers. On the question of whether the court should apply a further test of ‘proportionality’, in order to comply with the DPA and the Directive, Longmore LJ said this:

’28. Once it is established that there is arguable wrongdoing by unidentified individuals and that there is no realistic way of discovering the arguable wrong doers other than a Norwich Pharmacal order, it will generally be proportionate to make such an order revealing the identity of those arguable wrongdoers. There can be no reasonable expectation of privacy in respect of data which reveal such arguable wrongs and Viagogo’s own conditions of business point out to their customers that there may be circumstances in which their personal data will be passed on to others. Mr Mill submitted that the acceptance of such conditions constituted a waiver by Viagogo’s customers of confidentiality in their personal data. I doubt if that is right but the fact that Viagogo’s conditions of business contemplate that personal data of their customers may be revealed is not wholly irrelevant to proportionality.

 29. I would prefer to say that the requirement that Viagogo disclose a limited amount of personal data in this case is proportionate because there is no other way in which arguable wrongdoing can be exposed. In this case, as in many other Norwich Pharmacal cases, necessity and proportionality may go hand in hand. The terms of the order must, of course, be proportionate but Viagogo have never suggested that some more limited form of order would be appropriate. The only personal data ordered to be revealed are the names and addresses of the arguable wrongdoers. That seems to me to be both proportionate and just.’

The court went on to find that, in all the circumstances, the judge was plainly entitled to exercise his discretion in favour of making the order.

Golden Eye v Telefonica

In Golden Eye, copyright owners brought a claim for Norwich Pharmacal relief against an internet service provider in circumstances where the copyright owners suspected that internet consumers had been engaged in peer-to-peer file sharing of their material in breach of copyright. In essence, the claimants sought to obtain information identifying the internet consumers so that they could write to the claimants and seek redress from them in respect of the alleged wrongful file-sharing.  Like Viagogo, the case raised questions about whether the order sought could be reconciled with the rights of the internet consumers in their capacity as data subjects. In the course of his judgment, Arnold J alluded to the Court of Appeal’s judgment in Viagogo and also to its earlier judgment in Totalise plc v Motley Fool Ltd [2001] EWCA Civ 1897 (which was not referred to in Viagogo) where Aldous LJ held as follows:

24. It is not necessary to construe section 35 or paragraphs 5 and 6 of Schedule 2, but it is manifest from paragraph 6 of Schedule 2 [of the Data Protection Act 1998] that no order is to be made

for disclosure of a data subject’s identity, whether under the Norwich Pharmacal doctrine or otherwise, unless the court has first considered whether the disclosure is warranted having regard to the rights and freedoms or the legitimate interests of the data subject. By virtue of section 10 of the Contempt of Court Act 1981, if applicable, the court must also be satisfied that disclosure is necessary in the interests of justice.  

25. In a case such as the present, and particularly since the coming into force on 2 October 2000 of the Human Rights Act 1998, the court must be careful not to make an order which unjustifiably invades the right of an individual to respect for his private life, especially when that individual is in the nature of things not before the court: see the Human Rights Act 1998, section 6, and the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, articles 10 and (arguably at least) 6(1). There is nothing in article 10 which supports Mr Moloney’s contention that it protects the named but not the anonymous, and there are many situations in which – again contrary to Mr Moloney’s contention – the protection of a person’s identity from  disclosure may be legitimate.

 26. It is difficult to see how the court can carry out this task if what it is refereeing is a contest between two parties, neither of whom is the person most concerned, the data subject; one of whom is the data subject’s prospective antagonist; and the other of whom knows the data subject’s identity, has undertaken to keep it confidential so far as the law permits, and would like to get out of the cross-fire as rapidly and as cheaply as possible. However, the website operator can, where appropriate, tell the user what is going on and to offer to pass on in writing to the claimant and the court any worthwhile reason the user wants to put forward for not having his or her identity disclosed. Further, the court could require that to be done before making an order. Doing so will enable the court to do what is required of it with slightly more confidence that it is respecting the law laid down in more than one statute by Parliament and doing no injustice to a third party, in particular not violating his convention rights.”

 The court went on to consider whether the relief which was being sought in the present case was ‘proportionate’ having regard to the rights of the data subjects (see para. 116 et seq). On this point, the court noted that when determining the issue of proportionality, the court had to strike a fair balance between the property rights of the copyright owners (as afforded under Article 17(2) of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and Article 1 of Protocol 1 ECHR) and the rights of the data subjects (as afforded under Article 8 of the Charter and Article 8 ECHR). Ultimately, the court held that the balance tipped in favour of ordering that the defendant disclose the identity of the internet consumers. Notably, and in contrast with the approach suggested in Totalise, the court was of the view that it would not have been practicable to have required the defendant to notify the consumers of the NP proceedings, not least given the number of consumers in issue (para. 140).

See further Julian Wilson’s pre-Golden Eye 2010 post on the use of NPOs by copyright owners in respect of file-to-file sharing.

Omar – Using NPOs for Foreign Proceedings

The case of Omar raised particularly complex issues. This was because the claimants were seeking an NPO to assist them in the context of foreign proceedings. The foreign element of the claim meant that the court was required to address not only the usual five issues applicable in the context of applications for NPOs but also a range of other issues, including how the court’s powers should be exercised so as to avoid infringing the principle of the comity of nations.

The background to the Omar case was that the claimants were facing charges of terrorism and murder before the Ugandan criminal courts in connection with their alleged involvement in the FIFA world cup bombing in Kampala in 2010. In response to the criminal proceedings, the claimants had gone on to petition the Ugandan Constitutional Court (UCC) on the basis that the criminal proceedings were unlawful and an abuse of process because they had come about in circumstances where the claimants had been illegally rendered from Kenya to Uganda, where they had been subject to torture and ill-treatment. Whilst the petition before the UCC was still pending, the claimants brought proceedings in the English Administrative Court against the Foreign Office. In essence, the claimants sought to rely on Norwich Pharmacal principles to obtain an order requiring the Foreign Office to disclose evidence and information which the claimants asserted was relevant to their petition to the UCC. The order was being sought on the basis that: (a) the UK Intelligence Services had been mixed up in the alleged unlawful rendition of the claimants and (b) it was necessary for the claimants to obtain any evidence held by the Foreign Office in connection with these matters for
the purposes of the proceedings before the UCC.

The High Court (presided over by the President of the Queen’s Bench Division) rejected the claimant’s application for an NPO. In summary, it found that the application was without merit for a number of different reasons, as summarised below.

(1) The question of how the court should address applications for the disclosure of evidence relating to foreign proceedings involving criminal allegations should be answered by reference to the provisions of the applicable statutory scheme, namely the Crime (International Co-Operation) Act 2003. Pursuant to the statutory scheme, the court would only order the disclosure of evidence where this had been requested by the Ugandan prosecutor or the Ugandan court. No such request had been made in the present case. Thus, the application for an NPO must be refused on the basis that it amounted to an impermissible attempt to circumvent the statutory scheme (paras. 31-72).

(2) The court would in any event have refused to grant an NPO in view of the fact that no application for disclosure had been made in the Ugandan courts. The principle of comity of nations would preclude the English court from making an order for disclosure which would have the effect of trespassing on foreign judicial proceedings, save where those foreign proceedings were patently inadequate or there was some other compelling reason for making of the order. Those considerations did not arise in the present case (paras. 73-80).

(3) In any event, an NPO could only be ordered where the claimants had established that the order was ‘necessary’ in all the circumstances (see further the discussion in Omar of the test of ‘necessity’ as considered in R(Binyam Mohamed) v Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs [2008] EWHC 2048 (Admin) (“Binyam Mohammed No.1“) and the President of the State of Equatorial Guinea v Royal Bank of Scotland International (Privy Council, 2006)). In the present case, the claimants had failed to establish that an NPO was necessary because they had not sought to apply for disclosure in Uganda in relation to their arrests (paras. 81-90).

(4) Furthermore, whilst it was accepted by the Foreign Office that the claimants had made out a sufficient case of alleged wrongdoing in respect of their removal from Kenya to Uganda, an NPO could only be contemplated by the court if the Foreign Office had not merely been ‘mixed up’ in the wrongdoing but had, by its actions, positively ‘facilitated’ it. The court’s conclusions on whether the UK Intelligence Services had facilitated the alleged wrongful rendition of the claimants was set out in a closed annex to the judgment (paras. 91-102).

(5) If, contrary to the court’s earlier findings, the discretion to order an NPO had been engaged, the court would in any event have exercised its discretion so as to refuse relief. There were important factors which favoured the granting of relief in this case, including the fact that the claimants were facing the death penalty in Uganda. However, these factors were insufficient to justify the making of an NPO, particularly in view of evidence from the Foreign Office to the effect that the making of the order would be seen as a deliberate attempt by the UK to derail the Government of Uganda in its attempts to bring terrorists to justice and, further, ‘a grave betrayal of the of the UK’s promise to stand with Uganda in its fight against terrorism’. In reaching these conclusions, the court took into account in particular the analysis of how the discretion to order an NPO in respect of foreign proceedings should be exercised which was set out in Binyam Mohamed No. 1.

On the separate question of whether the Foreign Office had conducted reasonable and proportionate searches to discover whether it held evidence relating to the claim of ill-treatment, the court held that, on the evidence, the Foreign Office had discharged its duties in this regard (paras. 108-111).

One other notable feature of the judgment is what it says about how disclosure relevant to the application for an NPO should be dealt with by the court. In summary, the court concluded that the claimants were not entitled to disclosure under CPR 31 and that, more generally, a defendant would not be ordered to effect disclosure in a manner which revealed to the claimants the very information which was being sought through the proceedings. Similarly, the court held that, if and insofar as it needed to reference in its judgment information or evidence which had properly been withheld from the claimants, those references could and should be made in a closed annex which would not be disclosed to the claimants or the public at large (paras. 22-29). In this respect, the court’s approach to handling applications for NPOs closely resembles the approach which the information tribunal takes to the handling of closed evidence in the context of appeals under FOIA.

This judgment is important for a number of reasons. First, it highlights the court’s strong predisposition to avoid deploying its NPO powers in a way that might be regarded as exhibiting a colonialist attitude to foreign judicial proceedings. Second, it demonstrates the generally very high hurdles which will have to be cleared by a claimant who is seeking an NPO for use in foreign proceedings involving allegations of criminal wrongdoing. 11KBW’s Karen Steyn acted for the Secretary of State.

Anya Proops