Hong Kong: Not Knowing The Identity Of The Wrongdoer? A Third Party Can Help!

Last Updated: 13 May 2014
Article by Tanner De Witt

X stole the money of Y, deposited the crime proceeds into Bank A and further transferred it to other banks.

Y is preparing to sue X. However, Y has no idea where his money went!

Does Bank A have the obligation to disclose what it knows to victim Y and to assist him?

In general, only parties to an existing litigation have the duty to disclose documents relevant to the litigation. However, this is not always the case. In our example above, Bank A may be required by law to disclose information to assist victim Y in locating his stolen money although Bank A did not know about the theft and was completely innocent.

This is often referred to a "Norwich Pharmacal" order. The rationale behind it is that the law imposes a duty upon a person who, through no fault of his own, gets mixed up in the wrongdoings of others to assist the person who has been wronged by giving him full information and disclosing the identity of the wrongdoers. Accordingly, the identities of potential defendants may be made the subject of disclosure by the Court.

Applying this to our example of X and Y above, the Norwich Pharmacal order is useful not only in locating the whereabouts of property, but also in identifying wrongful parties or establishing the amount or extent of theft.

This well established principle originated from Norwich Pharmacal Co. v Customs and Excise Commissioners [1974] AC 133, in which the owner of a patent knew that infringing goods were entering the UK, but could not ascertain their identity. The Commissioners, in the course of performing their duties had information that would identify the imports. Also, they had unknowingly played a part in facilitating importation of the infringing goods. The House of Lords found that where a third party had become involved in unlawful conduct, they were under a duty to assist the person suffering damage by giving them full information and disclosing the identity of wrongdoers.

The duty is not confined to identifying wrongdoers in the tortious acts, but includes the duty to provide "full information" to ascertain the existence of a cause of action or the elements thereof or to complete an investigation into such matters.1

The Norwich Pharmacal relief has now been commonly used to identify the proper defendant to an action or to obtain information to plead a claim. Such relief can also be granted in aid of proceedings taken or contemplated to be taken outside Hong Kong.

Common applications

One of the most common applications of the Norwich Pharmacal relief is against banks or others to whom stolen or misappropriated moneys or proceeds have paid. The Norwich Pharmacal relief enables those plaintiffs who have been wronged to trace their monies. This is also known as the Bankers Trust order after the case Bankers Trust Co v Shapira [1980] 1WLR1274 CA.

A Norwich Pharmacal Order can also be made against internet service provider for disclosure of the names and addresses of the users of IP addresses.

The requirements for obtaining the Norwich Pharmacal order

A Norwich Pharmacal order is an equitable remedy and the Court has discretion as to whether it should be granted. A Norwich Pharmacal order will only be granted where "necessary" in the interests of justice. The Court will only exercise its discretion if:

  • There are cogent and compelling evidence to demonstrate serious wrongful activities have taken place;
  • The order will or will very likely reap substantial and worthwhile benefits for the plaintiff;
  • The discovery sought must not be unduly wide.

The applicant has an onerous duty to give full and frank disclosure of all material facts, especially if the application is made ex-parte without notice to the respondent. The applicant will be required to give certain undertakings to the Court, including an undertaking in damages.

Ancillary orders

The Norwich Pharmacal relief allows the plaintiff to obtain pre-action evidence against the wrongdoer. If the wrongdoer is forewarned of the plaintiff's application for pre-action discovery and its intention to bring proceedings against him afterwards, steps may be taken by the wrongdoer to frustrate any claim or investigation that may be made against him. He may also dissipate his assets beyond the plaintiff's reach.

Therefore, the application for a Norwich Pharmacal order should also include a "gagging order" to refrain the respondent, for a specified period of time, from informing anyone (including the wrongdoer) about the application or about the fact that information is being provided to the applicant.

Similarly, an "anonymity order" that keeps the parties name in secret can help to ensure that the wrongdoer will not be forewarned of the application.

TDW's experience

TDW has experience in obtaining Norwich Pharmacal orders, gagging orders and anonymity orders against major banks in Hong Kong.

Information successfully obtained by our clients includes the identity and address of the wrongdoer, bank statements, account opening documents and instructions to the banks.

If you would like to know more about the Norwich Pharmacal application and what other steps you can do to preserve the money or proceeds identified, please contact us.


1.Yew Seng Computer (HK) Ltd v Computerland Corporation [1956] HKLR 283 (at 286D-E); P v T Ltd [1997] 1 WLR 1309 (at 1318D-1319B).

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Some comments from our readers…
“The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable”
“I often find critical information not available elsewhere”
“As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”

Related Topics
Related Articles
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions