High Court Delivers Guidance On Service Of Injunctions On ‘Persons Unknown’

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The High Court has delivered guidance on how injunctions obtained against ‘persons unknown’ should be served in a decision in the case of Secretary of State for Transport (HS2) v Cuciurean [2020] EWHC 2614. The case applied a recent Court of Appeal decision, Canada Goose v Persons Unknown [2020] EWHC 2459 (QB).

Mr. Cuciurean, a protestor against the High Speed 2 (HS2) rail expansion project, was given a suspended prison sentence for trespassing on land in breach of an order that HS2 had previously obtained against ‘persons unknown.’ The court dismissed Mr. Cuciurean’s argument that he had not been served with or had proper notice of the order and was therefore not subject to its terms.

RULES ON SERVICE

Civil Procedure Rule 6.3(1) sets out the permitted methods for service of a claim form. Pursuant to CPR 6.15, the court can authorise service by an alternative method, and can “order that steps already taken to bring the claim form to the attention of the defendant by an alternative method […] is good service.” By virtue of CPR 6.27, this is extended to any other documents in the proceedings.

However, when service is to be made against ‘persons unknown,’ the process of effecting good service becomes more difficult.

Previous case law has established that service on ‘persons unknown’ must be undertaken in such a way so that it is reasonably expected to bring notice of the proceedings to their attention (Cameron v Liverpool Victoria Insurance Co Ltd [2019] UKSC 6). In Canada Goose, the court held that “the defendants subject to the interim injunction must be individually named if known and identified or, if not and described as “persons unknown,” must be capable of being identified and served with the order, if necessary by alternative service, the method of which must be set out in the order.

WHAT WILL CONSTITUTE GOOD SERVICE ON PERSONS UNKNOWN?

HS2 was deemed to have served the order on Mr. Cuciurean (who at the time of service fell within the category of ‘persons unknown’) and Mr. Cuciurean was therefore subject to its terms notwithstanding that he had not been personally served with the order at the time that it was made. When the injunction was originally granted, the terms of the order set out the specific steps that HS2 needed to take in relation to service. This included:

  • Publishing a notice of the order on the Government HS2 page and on a website for HS2 in the area where the order had been made;
  • Emailing the order to a relevant email address (namely, the action group of which Mr. Cuciurean was a member);
  • Placing copies of the order on fences, posts and hedges around the restricted site; and
  • Placing large warning notices of the order in similar locations, with details of the solicitors for HS2 included.

Effectively, this was an order for alternative service under Rule 6.15 that had been dealt with by the court upfront at the time that the injunction was granted. The terms of the order stated: “The taking of the steps set out […] shall be good and sufficient service of this Order on the […] Second Defendants and each of them. This Order shall be deemed served on those Defendants the date that the last of the above steps is taken, and shall be verified by a certificate of service.

By complying with the terms of the order, service had been effected and it did not matter whether or not Mr. Cuciurean had in fact seen the order. The burden of proof lay on the defendant to demonstrate that the service provisions operated unjustly against him. The court also rejected the defendant’s suggestion that actual knowledge of the order was required. Rather, all that was required of the claimant was to comply with the service provisions of the order.

COMMENTARY

Orders made against ‘persons unknown’ have been made in a broad spectrum of cases, for example in CMOC v Persons Unknown [2017] EWHC 3996 (Comm), in which a world-wide freezing order was granted against persons unknown in a banking fraud case. The decision in Secretary of State for Transport (HS2) v Cuciurean serves as a helpful reminder to parties that are commencing proceedings or seeking to obtain an injunction against ‘persons unknown.’ Applicants should address the requirements for service upfront and obtain an order for alternative service under CPR 6.15. This will limit any argument that a respondent may have in relation to whether it is bound by the terms of an order against ‘persons unknown.’

The authors would like to thank Rebecca Palfreman for her contribution to this article.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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