Is confidentiality causing problems for claimants in art fraud cases?

In the art world, confidentiality is king. But that can be a challenge for claimants in art fraud cases. However, help is at hand in the form of Norwich Pharmacal applications, as the case of Hickox v Dickinson [2020] EWHC 2520 (Ch) shows.

The case concerned a painting by the artist Paul Signac which Ms Hickox was seeking to sell in around 2012. She approached Timothy Sammons (now in prison in New York following a series of art frauds) who arranged a sale for US4.85m. As is common practice in the art world, Ms Hickox did not know the identity of the buyer, who was represented by Simon Dickinson Ltd. Although Mr Sammons was paid for the painting, the money was never passed on to Ms Hickox.

Without knowing any more about what had happened to her painting and the proceeds of sale, Ms Hickox was left without the details needed to bring a claim. However, a successful Norwich Pharmacal application allowed Ms Hickox to find out further details of the transaction from Simon Dickinson Ltd.

The Court commented that: “[Mr Sammons] exploited market customs of confidentiality to carry out serial fraud in the international art market.” This case shows that a Norwich Pharmacal application provides a vital tool to the victims of those cases, to overcome the barriers confidentiality can pose to bringing a claim.

Boodle Hatfield has previously successfully obtained a Norwich Pharmacal Order when acting for the seller’s agent, where the buyer had reneged on a promise to pay for an artwork, to obtain further information from the buyer’s agent. Despite the buyer’s agent opposing the application on the basis of confidentiality, the Court granted the Order.

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