Norwich Pharmacal Orders – A Powerful and Flexible Legal Tool

The recent case of Josh Grant highlights that even in the most emotional of circumstances software providers, such as Apple are unwilling to release sensitive user data in the absence of a Court Order.

Josh Grant’s case is particularly difficult to stomach. Josh Grant was left an Apple iPad by his late mother, in her last Will and testament, who unfortunately passed away from cancer. Ms Grant had made use of the iPad during her treatment, using its puzzle games etc, most likely to occupy her mind during periods of treatment, and prior to her death upgraded the iPad to the new iOS7 software, which as any Apple user knows, provides more robust security measures. Sadly, Ms Grant did not inform Josh or the rest of her family her Apple ID before she passed away, hence leaving the iPad locked to them. Despite repeated requests to Apple – Apple refused to provide the security details to allow them to access the iPad, and when they attempted to restore the factory settings Apple requested written authority from their mother – an absolute ludicrous and clearly generic request with no human input into what Apple was communicating to the Grant family.

Upon imploring Apple to take action, they requested a copy of the death certificate pertaining to Ms. Grant, her Will and a letter from their solicitor confirming the position – Apple then demanded a Court Order before being able to unlock the iPad, invoking their obligations under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act 1986, which protects the security of electronic users’ details.

Josh Grant came to the conclusion, following Apple’s onerous requests, that it was a false economy to pursue the unlocking of the iPad, given the amount of money that it would cost to do so. So essentially he was left stuck with a locked iPad: about as useful as a paperweight.

Interestingly, Apple did not explain what type of Court Order they required Josh Grant to obtain – although granted Apple are under no obligation to provide legal advice – an indication as to WHAT they actually wanted would have been useful, given the emotive  nature of the matter at hand. Having given the matter some consideration, I would advise that Josh Grant and his family were best placed pursuing an application for a disclosure order, known as a Norwich Pharmacal Order (‘NPO’) from the High Court, compelling Apple to release the security data to them. Although the procedure and grounds for obtaining a Norwich Pharmacal Order are naturally complex, and often reserved for cases pertaining to online anonymous unlawful material, I am firmly of the opinion that this procedure could help Josh Grant and his family uncover their late mother’s missing details. Often the Court must be convinced as to the legal basis for a Norwich Pharmacal Order, and what the proposed substantive legal case will be that requires anonymity to be overridden. In the case of the Grant family, the substantive legal case is clear, Josh grant is entitled to the details under his late mother’s Will – an unavoidably obvious legal claim.

Of course we appreciate the costs involved in pursuing such a complex legal tool, but to employ the power of a Norwich Pharmacal Order in such a way would likely be a legal first and would hopefully give Josh Grant and his family access to the gift left to them by their late mother, which is currently being held to ransom by Apple INC.

John Spyrou

Pinder Reaux