Direct link Share on

The Supreme Court has today handed down a judgment holding that courts may make final injunctions binding against persons who are unknown and unidentified at the date of the grant of the injunction, and who have not yet performed, or even threatened to perform, the acts which the injunction prohibits (“newcomer injunctions”).

The case concerned a series of newcomer injunctions obtained by local authorities, or groups of local authorities, to prevent Gypsies and Travellers from camping on local authority land without permission. The injunctions were addressed to “persons unknown” and were obtained at without notice hearings where the interests of the persons affected were not represented.

The Court held that newcomer injunctions are a wholly new type of injunction and that use of such injunctions to prohibit unauthorised encampments by Gypsies and Travellers is only likely to be justified if:

  1. The applicant local authority has demonstrated that, on the available evidence, there is a compelling need to protect civil rights or enforce public law that is not adequately met by any other remedies;
  2. There are adequate procedural safeguards built into both the application and the court order, including an obligation to take all reasonable steps to draw the application and any order made to the attention of those likely to be affected by it, and to provide the most generous provision for liberty to apply to have the injunction varied or set aside;
  3. The applicant local authorities comply with a strict duty which requires them to disclose to the court (after due research) any matter which a newcomer might raise to oppose the making of the order;
  4. The injunctions are appropriately constrained so that they do not apply for a disproportionately long time period or to a disproportionately wide geographical area; and
  5. The court is satisfied that it is, on the particular facts of the case, just and convenient that a newcomer injunction be granted.

Given the increasing use of persons unknown injunctions targeted at protestors who engage in direct action, the Court heard interventions on protest rights. While emphasis in the judgment was on newcomer injunctions in Gypsy and Traveller cases, the Court held that in appropriate circumstances newcomer injunctions could also be used to target actions such as blocking motorways or occupying motorway gantries, but that in each of these cases there must be a full and careful assessment of the justification for the order sought, the rights which are or may be interfered with by the grant of the order, and the proportionality of that interference.

Marlena Valles acted for Liberty, the second intervener, with Jude Bunting KC.

Tristan Jones appeared as Advocate to the Court in the Court of Appeal, and Sarah Wilkinson in the High Court.

The judgment is available here.

+44 (0)207 5831770