In recent years there has been an increasing trend for
property owners and occupiers to seek injunctions against persons unknown to
restrain the actions of trespassers and protestors. These are usually sought on a quia timet
basis, which means that they are granted in advance of any wrong taking
place. As with most injunctions, they
are often granted in the interim, pending a full hearing, where they can be
made final or indefinite.
In these cases, the Court takes careful steps to identify exactly who should be made the subject of the injunction and how to distinguish between those persons acting legitimately and those breaking the law. In the recent case of Canada Goose v Persons Unknown, the Court explored this decision-making process in more detail.
The Canada Goose case concerned a retail store in Regent
Street, London, which saw coats made from fur and other animal products. The store became a focus for protests which
included leafleting, photographing and videoing store staff, obstructing the
road and entrance to the store and painting and spraying the outside of
it. In November 2017 the store’s
operator applied to the Court for an injunction against Persons Unknown to
prevent further alleged acts of harassment, trespass and nuisance arising from
No notice was given to the protestors and the store’s
operator was immediately granted an interim injunction against “Persons Unknown
who are protestors against the manufacture and sale of clothing made of or
containing animal products and against the sale of such clothing at Canada
Goose, 244 Regent Street, London, W1B 3BR”.
After the claim was issued, the claim was purportedly served on over 300
people involved in the protests.
The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals Foundation (PETA)
became involved in the dispute and in December 2017 were added as a second
Defendant. In November 2018 the store’s
operator applied for summary judgment against the Defendants, requesting that
the injunction become final.
The High Court refused to grant summary judgment and ordered that the interim injunction be lifted. They cited the decision of Boyd v Ineos Upstream Ltd  4WLR 100 and confirm the requirements that needed to be set aside for an injunction against Persons Unknown, namely:
- The fundamental human right to freedom of speech requires the Court to be satisfied that an injunction is appropriate and proportionate in the circumstances.
- The injunction had been handed to numerous
people but had not been properly served on anyone, including PETA, depriving
them of the opportunity to raise a Defence.
- The wide definition of protestors in the injunction meant that it covered even people standing silently outside the store holding a placard. Such lawful behaviour was not sufficiently serious to warrant the potential criminal penalties that would follow a breach of an injunction and there was no evidence that PETA had committed any wrong at all.
- The terms of the injunction were not clear
enough as to what was being prohibited but effectively left it to the lay
person to make that difficult assessment him/herself, on pain of imprisonment
if s/he gets it wrong. This was
considered to be a disproportionate interference with the right to freedom of
- It was considered that an injunction against
Persons Unknown was inappropriate in these circumstances, especially where
other remedies such as police arrest for criminal activity, were
- Permission has been given for the matter to be
appealed to the Supreme Court. In the
meantime, the discharge of the interim injunction has been stayed, meaning that
it will remain in force until the determination of any appeal.
This case will provide some reassurance for those seeking to lawfully exercise their right to protest. However, it can also provide useful guidance for those wishing to secure an injunction against Person Unknown, serving as a helpful reminder that the terms of the proposed injunction need to be specific in their application and clearly directed at persons capable of being defined and identified.