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Norwich Pharmacal Orders - Identifying Anonymous

An order to identify the anonymous

Do you wish to bring a claim against someone but you do not know their identity?  For example, are you being defamed on the internet by an anonymous blogger, harassed by an unknown person or has someone leaked confidential information relating to you but you are not sure who is responsible?   You may not know that there is a legal way of identifying the anonymous  prospective defendant - you can apply to the Court for a Norwich Pharmacal Order.

In the context of online defamation, harassment and privacy complaints, websites hosting third party content will typically refuse to give out the details of the person who is responsible for the content even if you have made a formal request and your motive for seeking the information is legitimate.  Do not be surprised if they ask you to provide a court order.  There are sound reasons for their reluctance to assist –they are likely to be under a duty of confidence not to disclose such information voluntary.  Giving out information about anonymous posters could leave them at risk of suit and/or put them in breach of the General Data Protection Regulation ('GDPR')/Data Protection Act 2018.  This is where Norwich Pharmacal Orders come into play.

What is a Norwich Pharmacal Order?

A Norwich Pharmacal Order is an Order which requires that a third party who is ‘mixed up’ in the wrongdoing (albeit innocently) disclose information as to the identity of the wrongdoer.   The term derives from the name of the case that established the principle that a court could make such orders: Norwich Pharmacal v Commissioners of Customs and Excise [1974] AC 133.

The purpose of the Order is to allow a prospective Claimant to obtain the relevant information to take action against someone who is committing a wrongful act which infringes their legal rights.  It will, therefore, only be relevant where the wrongdoer is unknown to you.  Despite their obvious usefulness in the context of internet law, the application of these types of Orders is widespread and can be sought in various legal scenarios.

How do I get a Norwich Pharmacal Order?

You will need to make an application in the High Court and support it with evidence.  We can guide you through this process, draft the relevant documents and arrange advocacy using specialist defamation counsel.  For that reason you should preserve any documents, correspondence or web printouts that may be relevant.  If you have already made attempts to find out the identity of the prospective defendant via conventional channels then you should also retain any documentation that demonstrates this e.g. emails or letters.

There are three conditions which you will need to satisfy the Court of before it will consider granting such an application (you should bear in mind that such Orders are discretionary and
there is no obligation on the Court to grant them):-

  1. There is an act of wrongdoing which has been or has arguably been committed by an ultimate
  2. There must be a need for the Order to enable you to take action against this unknown person.  The redress sought does not necessarily mean instigating legal proceedings although that will often be the logical consequence; and
  3. The third party against whom the Order is sought is mixed up in the wrongdoing so as to have facilitated it and is able/likely to be able to provide the necessary information for the wrongdoer to be pursued.   In the scenario of an anonymous blog on a web forum, this will usually be the host website.

How can our Norwich Pharmacal Order Solicitors help?

We are regularly instructed to seek Norwich Pharmacal Orders in the High Court.  If you wish to proceed to make an application we will assist you in preparing the evidence (drafting a witness statement and preparing exhibits), correspond with the respondent, lodge an application with the court and attend the hearing.

We will write to the Respondent as a first step to ascertain whether they will oppose an order.  The costs involved in us bringing Norwhich Pharmacal proceedings is typically in the region of £5,000 plus VAT (plus a £528 court fee) where the application is uncontested.  If proceedings are contested (i.e. the respondent objects to an order being granted or does not cooperate) then costs are more likely to be in the region of £15,000 plus VAT.

If you are unsure whether it is necessary or desirable to seek a Norwhich Pharmacal Order then we recommend a preliminary consultation.  A consultation will help you understand the legal and practical issues relating to your case and allow you to make an informed decision about what action to take.  There may be other options open to you beyond a Norwich Pharmacal Order.   The cost of a consultation will depend on the factual and legal complexity of the matter and, in particular, how much paperwork you require us to consider ahead of the meeting.  In relatively straightforward matters, the cost may be as low as £500 plus VAT.

Why instruct Brett Wilson LLP?

Our work is of the highest standard.  Every case run by a specialist media law solicitor with strategic input from a partner.  We are well-respected by media practitioners.  As well as being listed in the prestigious Legal 500 directory as a leading firm in the field of defamation law and privacy law, every solicitor in the media law department is recommended by the directory.  Equally, the firm is ranked as a leading firm by Chambers & Partners for defamation and reputation management work, with Iain Wilson and Max Campbell individually recognised.  Most importantly, we achieve positive results for our clients and excellent feedback.

Contact us

To arrange a consultation or to find out how we can support you, please send us an emailcomplete our online enquiry form or call us on 020 3813 5135.


Please note that we do not undertake civil litigation on a legal aid basis.  Information on legal aid can be found at the Government’s benefits and credits website by clicking here.  

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