Hillingdon London Borough Council V Persons Unknown (2020)

On 18 May 2020, the court adjourned the local authority’s application for an injunction to prohibit persons unknown from remaining on and occupying its land and establishing an encampment for the purpose of protesting against the construction of the high-speed rail link.

The trespass concerned 2 camps: one was set up in September 2019 and the other at the start of May 2020.

A number of individuals had emailed the court wishing to attend the proceedings and to be joined as defendants. The court limited the number of people who could attend the hearing on the basis that that was necessary and proportionate because, as the hearing was being heard remotely, there was a risk that the technology would fail if there were too many participants. The court was not prepared to take that risk, as 2 members of the press were on the call; a recording would be available; some interested parties were on the call; and some of the un-named defendants who wished to be joined to the proceedings as defendants were being represented by an individual (“R”). R’s case was that as there were people who were willing to be named as defendants, some of the defendants were known and lived in one or other of the 2 camps, there had been opportunities for the local authority to find out who lived there, an order against persons unknown was inappropriate. The Court agreed and adjourned the matter to allow the Council to serve named defendants.

Why is this case interesting?

  1. It shows practical ways that the Courts are responding to the Covid crisis and treating remote hearings. Here, it restricted the number of defendants as a giant number would have been unwieldy and could have jeopardised an effective hearing.
  2. It underlines the reluctance of the Court to grant injunctions against Persons Unknown if it is possible to identify named defendant, since the Court of Appeal’s landmark decision in Boyd & Anor v Ineos Upstream Ltd & Ors[2019] EWCA Civ 515