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Jonathan Holsgrove discusses Injunctions in the age of COVID 19

The High Court at the Birmingham District Registry in the case of Wolverhampton City Council & Others v Persons Unknown [2020] EWHC 759 QB have recently considered the impact of the COVID 19 crisis as a factor in the granting of injunctions and the conduct of applications generally.

In 2014, the Court granted a quia timet injunction prohibiting car cruising in the area of the Claimant local authorities known as the ‘Black Country Area’. Car cruising is the practice of drivers meeting on or around the public highway to show off their cars and race. It often led to anti social behavior and, on occasion, involved dangerous driving that was a risk to the public. The original injunction was for a period of 3 years and was subsequently extended in 2018 to be reviewed at a later date. The Claimants applied for a review.

The review was ‘heard’ on 30th March 2020. The attendance of the parties had been excused because of the HM Government Guidance issued to combat COVID 19. In preparation for the hearing written submissions were made by the Claimants. In a novel approach the public were consulted via social media and through mainstream were invited to provide the Claimant with any responses for or against the injunction. The review was held in open court but was decided on the papers before the Judge.

Four responses were received. One in support of car cruising, denied that there were any ongoing issues and events were properly policed. Some local residents complained that anti social car cruising was still going. Of particular relevance to the current situation, one respondent was concerned about the risk car cruising puts on the NHS and Police at a time when resources are stretched.

After providing a useful review of the law on injunctions against persons unknown, His Honour Judge Worcester sitting as High Court Judge held:

1. There was plain evidence of the need for a quia timet injunction. The orders previously had been effective but the problem still persists as evidenced by some of the responses. Specifically the Judge noted the danger car cruising posed to the NHS at this time.

2. It was not possible to identify the defendants. Effective notice of the injunction could still be given by a variety of methods and can be specified in any order.

3. The issue of proper policing was not relevant to these car cruising ‘events’. They take place on the highway or on private land without permission. They have led to accidents and injury and are a nuisance. It would be an inappropriate, unnecessary and wasteful use of Police resources to police car cruising when resources are stretched thin.

4. The order continues to fulfill the purposes for which it had been granted and was operating satisfactorily. It is to remain in force.

This case is an example of how the Courts and the legal profession need to react to practice in the time of COVID 19. We can see the Court here adapting to the situation by embracing technology and determining matters on paper all to comply with social distancing. This case is also an example of how over the short to medium term the legal professional will need to tailor advice and the approach to cases to give proper consideration to the overriding change of circumstances that COVID 19

has created. It will be a relevant consideration in the vast majority of cases either has part of the factual matrix of a case or the procedural approach taken in a case.