In Muwema v Facebook Ireland Ltd  IEHC 69, the Irish High Court refused to grant a Norwich Pharmacal order against Facebook, requiring disclosure of the identity and location of an anonymous third party operating a Facebook page containing defamatory content. The Court found that if Facebook disclosed such information it would endanger the life of the third party. The Court held that the right to a good name must give way to the right to life and bodily integrity in the event of a conflict.
In a previous ruling last September 2016, the Irish High Court refused to order Facebook to remove defamatory content posted by an anonymous third party. However, the Court had granted a Norwich Pharmacal order requiring Facebook to disclose the identity and location of the person operating the relevant page involved, as Facebook did not oppose the making of the order (see our previous blog). That order had not been perfected when these proceedings were initiated.
In these proceedings, Facebook sought leave of the Court to introduce new evidence with a view to opposing the Norwich Pharmacal Order, on the basis that it had discovered that the third party, who was responsible for making the alleged defamatory postings, was a famous political activist who was wanted for arrest in Uganda. Facebook submitted that if the identity of the third party was revealed, there was a serious risk that he would be subjected to torture, cruel or inhumane treatment in Uganda. The third party’s Facebook page was critical of the Ugandan Government, and he had been the subject of numerous attempts by the Ugandan State to censor him and numerous requests had been made to Facebook to obtain his identity. The plaintiff objected to the Facebook’s assertion on the basis of hearsay evidence, and claimed that he would be left without any right of an effective remedy if Norwich Pharmacal relief was not granted.
The High Court allowed Facebook’s application to admit new evidence, and refused to grant the Norwich Pharmacal order. The Court noted that generally a party seeking to adduce new evidence would not be able to argue that it was not offered previously because it was later discovered following administrative procedures. However, even though the evidence was always available to Facebook, the nature of the evidence and consequences of refusing to admit it meant the Court was required to take a different approach to its admittance.
The Court’s refusal of Norwich Pharmacal relief was made subject to the condition that Facebook would notify the third party that he should remove the offending postings within fourteen days from the date of delivery of the judgment. In the event the third party failed to do so, the plaintiff would be entitled to renew his application for Norwich Pharmacal relief which would be duly granted. The Court found that the plaintiff’s constitutional right to good name needed to be balanced against the third party’s right to life.