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Supreme Court confirms injunctions can be granted against newcomers

Background

The case of Wolverhampton City Council and Others v. London Gypsies and Travellers and Others [2023] UKSC 47 is a culmination of a number of decisions whereby local authorities had been successful in seeking (in some cases) borough-wide injunctions to prevent unauthorised encampment of land by Travellers and Gypsies. The injunctions had been granted without any other party being notified, and without any unlawful act having yet been committed (or even threatened to be committed). The injunctions in these cases were made against “persons unknown” (known as ‘newcomers’) since the Gypsies and Travellers (in this particular case) who might wish to camp on a particular site could not generally be identified in advance. 

High Court

By around mid-2020, local authorities who had been successful in seeking injunctions against newcomers were making applications to extend the injunctions that had previously been granted but a High Court judge decided that there was a need to review all newcomer injunctions affecting Gypsies and Travellers. Those representing the interests of Gypsies and Travellers were subsequently given permission to join the proceedings and the judge concluded that the court did not have the power to grant newcomer injunctions, except on a short-term, interim basis. A series of orders discharging the newcomer injunctions obtained by the local authorities were made.

Court of Appeal

The local authorities successfully appealed, and the Court of Appeal held that the court did have the power to grant newcomer injunctions. 

Supreme Court 

Those representing the interests of Gypsies and Travellers appealed to the Supreme Court. They sought confirmation as to whether the Court had the power to grant an injunction against newcomers.  Newcomers are those who:

  1. are unknown and unidentifiable at the time an injunction is made; and
  2. have not yet performed or threatened to perform the acts which are prohibited by the injunction (such as unauthorised encampments by Gypsies and Travellers and protesters etc) but may do so at a later date. 

Decision

The Supreme Court dismissed the appeal and unanimously agreed that interim and final injunction orders can be granted against newcomers. It said that the Court may exercise its discretion to award such injunction where:

  1. There is a real need for the protection of civil rights in the locality which cannot be adequately dealt with by any other measure available to applicant local authorities;
  2. There are procedural protections in place for the rights of the affected newcomers, including an obligation to take all reasonable steps to draw the application and any order made to the attention of all those likely to be affected by it. Any applicant for such injunction should disclose steps it proposes to take to (a) notify all persons likely to be affected by its terms; and (b) ascertain the names and addresses of all such persons who are only known by description.
  3. Applicant local authorities present to the Court everything which a protester might raise to oppose the making of an injunction order;
  4. The injunctions are limited by both duration and geographical scope. There has been considerable doubt as to whether it could ever be justifiable to grant a newcomer injunction which covers an entire borough or lasts for significantly longer than a year since this would leave Gypsy and Traveller communities with little or no room for manoeuvre; and
  5. It is fair and convenient for such newcomer injunction to be granted. The Supreme Court commented that it may not be fair, for example, to grant such an injunction restraining use of some sites as short-term transit camps if a local authority has failed to provide authorised sites within its boundaries.

Distinguishing features

Newcomer injunctions can be distinguished from ordinary injunctions, since they will be made against persons who are truly unknowable at the time of grant, as opposed to identifiable people whose names are not known. As a result, such an injunction will by its very nature always be made without notice (although informal notice of the application for such an injunction may be given by advertisement, reading about it on the internet or displaying a copy of the order at the relevant site) and could potentially be applicable to anyone in the world. Importantly, where a newcomer injunction is granted, it will apply immediately to anyone who has notice of it.

Wider significance

Whilst the decision in this case related to borough-wide injunctions sought by local authorities to prevent unlawful encampments by Gypsies and Travellers, the decision has a wider significance. The Supreme Court’s decision would apply to any injunctions against newcomers. 

The Supreme Court made clear that with the use of the internet increasing, affording wrongdoers protection behind a “veil of anonymity” does raise significant questions. The decision provides helpful clarification on the court’s power to grant injunctions against newcomers and guidance on approaching the concept of newcomers. 

In the more recent case of Buckinghamshire Council v Barrett and others [2024] EWHC (KB), the principles in Wolverhampton City Council and Others v. London Gypsies and Travellers and Others [2023] UKSC 47 were applied and the High Court reiterated the fact that injunctions against newcomers are an exceptional remedy and should only be used where there is no other appropriate remedy available.

Whilst this case appears to provide recourse for landowners who suffer unauthorised encampments or protesters on their land, it is important to note that in order to seek the grant of an injunction against newcomers, the Court must be satisfied by detailed evidence that there is a compelling justification for the order sought. 

Please do not hesitate to contact Harriet Durn, or your usual Charles Russell Speechlys contact if you have any queries. 

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