Civil litigation: Wolverhampton: potential application to fraud?

Last November, the Supreme Court provided clarity on the scope and applicability of ‘newcomer injunctions’ in the case of Wolverhampton City Council and others (Respondents)v London Gypsies and Travellers and others (Appellants) [2023] UKSC 47. This ruling not only addresses the specific issue of encampments by Gypsies and Travellers but also has far-reaching implications, particularly in the realm of fraud claims where the perpetrators are unidentified at the time of seeking injunctions.

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Wolverhampton revolved around the question of whether the court possesses authority to grant injunctions against individuals who are unknown and unidentified at the time of the injunction itself, and who have not yet engaged in or threatened to engage in prohibited acts. It also considers, if the court did have the power, on what basis and subject to what safeguards. The individuals, termed as ‘newcomers’, pose a unique challenge for local authorities seeking to prevent unauthorised encampments on their land.

Historically, local authorities had obtained injunctions aimed at preventing Gypsies and Travellers from camping on public land without permission. These injunctions were addressed to ‘persons unknown’ due to the difficulty of identifying individuals in advance. The issue arose when, at first instance, the judge concluded that the court lacked the power to grant newcomer injunctions, except on a short-term interim basis.

The Court of Appeal disagreed, holding that the court did possess the power to grant newcomer injunctions. The Supreme Court unanimously upheld the authority of the court to issue newcomer injunctions, but emphasised the necessity for stringent safeguards and procedural fairness. While in force, a newcomer injunction will bind anyone with notice of it, even though that person may not have either had an intention of carrying out or made a threat to carry out the act prohibited at the time when the injunction was granted. Therefore, it has the potential to apply to anyone in the world.

The Supreme Court found newcomer injunctions to be a valuable and proportionate remedy in appropriate cases. However, the court clarified that this power should only be exercised in circumstances where there is a compelling reason. The Supreme Court stated that, as the injunctions are made without notifying the affected newcomers, procedural safeguards must be built into the application and the court order. They include that the injunction (once granted) must be displayed in a prominent location at the affected site. The SC also stipulated that such injunctions should be limited so they do not apply for a disproportionately long period or to a disproportionately wide geographical area; and that the court must be satisfied that it is, on the particular facts of the case, just and convenient that a newcomer injunction is granted. 

Applicability to fraud claims

The Supreme Court’s ruling reaffirms the court’s commitment to adapting legal frameworks to effectively address emerging challenges, emphasising the need for procedural safeguards and equitable principles. As the legal landscape continues to evolve, the principles elucidated in Wolverhampton are likely to serve as a cornerstone for addressing complex legal issues, including those arising in the context of fraud claims against unknown perpetrators.

The Supreme Court acknowledged that, while the appeal arose in the context of unlawful encampments by Gypsies and Travellers, the issues raised have wider significance. ‘The issue is liable to arise whenever there is a potential conflict between the maintenance of private or public rights and the future behaviour of individuals who cannot be identified in advance,’ it stated.  

It is thought that a newcomer injunction may have application beyond the authorised encampments context. One can envisage circumstances where wrongdoers operating online are able to violate private or public rights behind a veil of anonymity. Indeed, the basic notion that such injunctions can be granted against persons unknown has already been applied in the cryptocurrency context in the English courts at first instance, where unknown wrongdoers have been sued as persons unknown (AA v Persons Unknown and Ors Re Bitcoin [2019] EWHC 3556 (Comm) and D’Aloia v Persons Unknown [2022] EWHC 1723 (Ch)).

In the realm of fraud litigation, where perpetrators often operate anonymously and seek to exploit technological loopholes, the ability to obtain injunctions against unknown entities is paramount. The Supreme Court’s recognition of the need for equitable remedies to prevent further harm or loss resulting from fraudulent activities aligns with the evolving landscape of legal responses to cyber fraud.

Drawing parallels with the principles elucidated in Wolverhampton, fraud claims involving unidentified perpetrators could benefit from the application of newcomer injunctions. Just as these injunctions are aimed at preventing certain behaviours detrimental to public interest, similar legal measures could be sought to prevent further harm or loss resulting from fraudulent actions.

Wolverhampton marks a significant milestone in the development of legal remedies to address contemporary challenges, with implications extending beyond its immediate context to potentially encompass the broader spectrum of fraud litigation and cybersecurity. Overall, newcomer injunctions may offer a proactive legal mechanism to prevent and address fraudulent activities, providing courts with the flexibility to take swift and decisive action to protect the interests of victims and preserve the integrity of the legal system. We now wait to see how newcomer injunctions can be used to protect client interests in fraud claims, as the principles from Wolverhampton will continue to evolve.


Georgina Squire is a committee member of the London Solicitors Litigation Association. Amanda Hughes, an associate at Rosling King LLP, also contributed to this article

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