An Example of Norwich Pharmacal Relief in Ireland

An application for Norwich Pharmacal relief has recently come before the High Court and those seeking to conceal their wrongdoing behind the anonymity of the Internet, should take note.

A Norwich Pharmacal order involves the bringing of a substantive action by an injured party against a defendant who may not have committed any wrong but because of some involvement with the events complained of, may be able to identify for the plaintiff the wrongdoer who has caused the injury concerned. This information is usually sought to facilitate the commencement of proceedings against that wrongdoer by the injured party who will argue that in the absence of the information its ability to seek redress will be compromised.

The first modern Irish case to recognise the jurisdiction of the Irish courts to grant this type of relief was the Supreme Court decision in Megaleasing UK Ltd v Barrett1. Since that time, the Irish courts have tended to take a restrictive view of the type of information which will be made available usually confining it to details relating to the identity of the wrongdoer. The Irish approach is in contrast to the UK and certain other common law countries where the information which can be obtained from a defendant can be more extensive.

One recent High Court case in the area is Petroceltic International plc & Ors v Aut O’Mattic A8C Ireland Ltd & Anor. In that case, the defendants were the owners of an investor blogging site. The plaintiffs alleged that an unknown blogger had posted untrue and defamatory statements concerning the plaintiffs on the site causing reputational damage to them. The plaintiffs wished to commence proceedings for defamation but had no means of identifying the blogger other than with the assistance of the defendants with whom the blogger had contracted when opening his website account. The plaintiffs sought information from the defendant identifying the blogger as well of the removal of the blog from the website.

Baker J made an order directing the removal of the blog describing the material as prima facie “grossly defamatory and inflammatory”. She also made an order prohibiting the further publication on the website of any other material from the blogger relating to the plaintiffs and the preservation by the defendants for six months of any data held by them concerning the blogger. In relation to the Norwich Pharmacal aspect of the application, she ordered that the second defendant notify the blogger of her order who would then have seven days to furnish details of their identity and other relevant information to that defendant. If this was not done, that defendant should within a period of ten days deliver to the plaintiffs on affidavit the identity of the blogger and any other relevant contact information within its power or control in respect of the blog.

The Norwich Pharmacal order granted here follows a number of existing Irish authorities granting relief in similar internet-related cases. However, given the limited amount of written case law available, this case will be of importance to both practitioners with an interest in the area and potential litigants alike.

  1. Megaleasing UK Ltd v Barrett (No 2) [1993] ILRM 497

This document has been prepared by McCann FitzGerald LLP for general guidance only and should not be regarded as a substitute for professional advice. Such advice should always be taken before acting on any of the matters discussed.