Friday, 16 December 2011

Court closes Norwich Pharmacal loophole

A Norwich Pharmacal application can be made to the court against innocent third parties to obtain information to enable proceedings to be brought against a wrongdoer. The original case, Norwich Pharmacal Company & Ors v Customs And Excise [1973] UKHL 6,  [1973] 3 WLR 164, [1973] FSR 365, [1973] 2 All ER 943, [1974] RPC 101, [1973] UKHL 6, [1974] AC 133 (26 June 1973) was about patent infringement. The principles laid down there were refined in the later case of Bankers Trust v Shapira [1980] 1 WLR 1275. The power of the court to make such orders was preserved in CPR 31.18.

The applicant for a Bankers Trust/Norwich Pharmacal order must provide a collateral undertaking that they will only use the documents disclosed in the case for the purposes of that litigation. This is covered by CPR 31.22.

Until now there has been no reported case on the interaction between the collateral undertaking and the use in subsequent proceedings of documents which were obtained from a third party following a Norwich Pharmacal application. The leading textbooks disagree on whether the collateral undertaking applied in Norwich Pharmacal cases.

Now, in Shlaimoun & Infina Fund v Mining Technologies (Queen's Bench Division, 13 December 2011, not yet on BAILII) Mr Justice Coulson has found that the collateral undertaking does apply but, when it makes a Norwich Pharmacal order, the court is implicitly giving permission to the applicant to make use of the documents in subsequent proceedings.

CJ Jones Solicitors LLP acted for Mining Technologies and instructed Charles Douthwaite of 4 New Square. Thanks to Chris Jones for a copy of the judgment and this note.

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