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Social Housing Speed Read – Injunctions against “Persons Unknown”

For many years, it has been possible to obtain injunctions against 'Persons Unknown' where someone was committing, or threatening to commit a wrong, but the specific identity of these persons was unknown.

These have been commonly utilised by local authorities to prevent the Travelling Community from entering and settling on local authority land and also by private land owners to prevent protests from occurring on their land.

In cases where an injunction was made against Persons Unknown prohibiting certain behaviour, a person engaging in such behaviour would be in breach of the injunction. Service of the injunction would be effected by erecting notice on the land in question. Whether or not a person could be committed for such a breach would depend on whether they were aware of the injunction at the time of the offending behaviour.

In 2019, the case of Canada Goose v Persons Unknown considered the issue of what the court referred to as ‘Newcomers’, being persons who had not been served with the proceedings, nor been involved in the unlawful actions at the time the injunction order was granted. These people would be Newcomers to the injunction if and when they committed one of the prohibited acts. The case concerned an injunction obtained to prohibit protests against the company’s use of animal fur at its Oxford Street store. The Judge considered it objectionable for such persons to become subject to final orders of the Court without ever being heard. It was therefore determined that a final injunction could not be made against persons unknown who fell within this Newcomer category.

Following two cases involving local authorities in 2020, the High Court conducted a comprehensive review of the authorities concerning injunctions against Persons Unknown. As a result, 30 ‘Traveller Injunctions’ were withdrawn, dismissed or discharges, leaving only eight of those that had been considered remaining.

In Barking and Dagenham v Persons Unknown in 2021, another ‘Traveller Injunction’ case, the High Court held that whilst an interim injunction could be granted against Persons Unknown, final injunctions could only be granted against persons who could be identified, whether by description or by actual name, and those people who had been given the opportunity to be heard and defend. The decision was appealed by the local authorities.

The Court of Appeal ultimately overturned the High Court’s decision in January 2022, stating that the High Court has the power to grant injunctions, both interim and final, where it is “just and convenient” to do so. It was found that there was no basis for distinctions to be made between interim and final injunctions as previously suggested. The Court considered the decision in Canada Goose and declared that such injunctions could also be granted to prevent persons unknown and unidentified at the date of the order, i.e. Newcomers, from engaging in in the prohibited behaviours.

This clarification from the Court of Appeal offers some comfort to those who may seek such injunctions and will ensure protection is afforded when identities of transitional trespassers may not be known.

If you have any questions on the above and how it will affect social housing providers, or any other questions as a social housing provider, please do not hesitate to contact Melanie Dirom or a member of our expert Social Housing Team.

Please note that this briefing is designed to be informative, not advisory and represents our understanding of English law and practice as at the date indicated. We would always recommend that you should seek specific guidance on any particular legal issue.

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