Supreme Court to hear challenge to ‘persons unknown’ injunctions

Press release
Injunctions increasingly used against environmental protestors
  Published:  08 Feb 2023    |      4 minute read

A landmark legal challenge to so-called 'persons unknown' injunctions, which have seen a massive increase in use over recent years against both Gypsy and Traveller communities and environmental demonstrators, is being heard by the Supreme Court today and tomorrow (8-9 February).

The case is being brought by three Gypsy and Traveller charities, supported by Friends of the Earth and Liberty. 

Since 2015, a large number of local authorities have used ‘borough-wide injunctions’, which disproportionately impact on nomadic Gypsies and Travellers by banning anyone from stopping on land, and contribute to the long-standing shortage of sites and stopping places.

The Supreme Court has granted Friends, Families and Travellers (FFT), London Gypsies and Travellers (LGT) and Derbyshire Gypsy Liaison Group (DGLG) permission to appeal the use of these wide-ranging ‘anti-Traveller’ injunctions taken out by Wolverhampton City Council and numerous other councils. Friends of the Earth and Liberty are intervening to support the appeal.

There has also been a rapid increase in the use of ‘persons unknown’ injunctions against environmental protestors in recent years – including by fossil fuel companies against a number of community-based campaigns opposing potential sites for fracking. 

Injunctions have also been secured covering a range of sites subject to environmental demonstrations including the entirety of the HS2 route and a controversial landfill site in Newcastle-Upon-Lyme, that has been subject to protests by local residents deeply concerned by fumes from the site. 

Friends of the Earth has supported communities and activists opposing anti-protest injunctions in court, including a successful case at the Court of Appeal in 2019, where an injunction obtained by Ineos was ruled unlawful and whose scope was significantly reduced by the court.  

Friends of the Earth’s Head of Political Affairs, Legal and Planning, Dave Timms, said:

“Friends of the Earth has seen first-hand the chilling effect that ‘persons unknown’ injunctions can have on legitimate peaceful protest by communities desperately concerned about the impact that unwelcome fossil fuel developments, such as fracking, can have on their families, homes and countryside.

“The growing trend to take out persons unknown injunctions is completely out of control and is rapidly becoming the go-to measure to creating a confusing system of bespoke public order laws for major corporations and councils. 

“We hope a definitive ruling from the Supreme Court will uphold the principle of the right to a fair trial and ensure injunctions don’t undermine the human rights of Gypsies, Travellers and peaceful protestors.  

“We support the right of the Gypsy and Traveller community to preserve their unique, nomadic way of life. These injunctions are a severe threat to that. Public authorities should focus their energies on providing Gypsy and Traveller communities with sufficient, allocated sites, instead of pursuing these unjust injunctions.”

Abbie Kirkby, Policy and Public Affairs Manager at Friends, Families and Travellers said:

“We are determined to continue challenging the discriminatory and disproportionate use of these injunctions. If local authorities do not identify suitable stopping places for nomadic communities, then they must not be allowed to use punitive measures to cover up their failings. There are common sense solutions to addressing the accommodation needs of Gypsies and Travellers, that work with families, not against them.”

Katy Watts, Lawyer at Liberty, said:

“We all want to live in a world where our way of life and our basic rights are respected. We are intervening in this case because we’re deeply concerned by the effect ‘persons unknown injunctions’ are having on people’s fundamental rights. The growing use of these injunctions is stopping protesters from standing up for what they believe in, and criminalising the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller way of life. 

“People may not even be aware they are subject to a ‘persons unknown injunction’, yet by unknowingly breaching one, they could be at risk of going to prison. This creates a parallel system of criminal justice, specifically targeted at protesters and the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller community. These injunctions need to be seen in the context of both the Policing Act which weakened the rights of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities, and now also the Public Order Bill which takes a further sledgehammer blow to our protest rights.

“This case has shown yet another instance of the Government acting in a punitive and heavy-handed way to clamp down on people’s rights. Instead of making it harder for us to make our voices heard, they should be safeguarding our fundamental rights.”

Ilinca Diaconescu, Policy and Campaigns Co-ordinator, London Gypsies and Travellers, said:

“We continue to campaign for the rights of nomadic communities and push for positive alternatives to wide injunctions against 'persons unknown', which are disproportionate and unjust. Enforcement action causes great hardship for Gypsy and Traveller families on the roadside – encouraging public prejudice, disrupting family life, threatening their health and wellbeing and preventing access to education, work and services. 

“There are alternatives to injunctions, and we hope more councils will change their approach from evictions and criminalisation, to providing the sites and stopping places that are urgently needed.”


A Friends of the Earth briefing about the case is available here

Notes to editors: 

1. The Supreme Court appeal is opposed by a number of local authorities and supported by HS2 Ltd, and the Secretary of State for Transport.

2. The case follows a Court of Appeal judgment in January 2022 which stated that ‘persons unknown’ injunctions can apply to ‘newcomers’ (people who are unknown and unidentifiable at the time that the injunction is granted; they are not involved in the original case and arrive later on land covered by the injunction). The Court of Appeal upheld the injunctions obtained by the local authorities which targeted Gypsies and Travellers. This overturned a previous ruling by Mr Justice Nicklin, that injunctions of this kind targeting the Traveller community in general, as opposed to specific people, were unlawful. 

3. Parties and their legal representatives:

The appellants are London Gypsies and Travellers; Friends, Families and Travellers; and Derbyshire Gypsy Liaison Group. They are represented by Richard Drabble KC of Landmark Chambers, Marc Willers KC, Tessa Buchanan and Owen Greenhall all of Garden Court Chambers, and by Chris Johnson at The Community Law Partnership.

Friends of the Earth Ltd (intervener) is represented by Stephanie Harrison KC, Stephen Clark and Fatima Jichi of Garden Court Chambers, and by Mike Schwarz and Emily McNally at the law firm Hodge Jones and Allen. Friends of the Earth’s in-house lawyer is Katie de Kauwe. 

Liberty (intervener) is represented by Jude Bunting of Doughty Street Chambers and Marlena Valles at Blackstone Chambers. Liberty’s in-house lawyer is Katy Watts.

The Respondents are: Wolverhampton City Council, Walsall Metropolitan Borough Council, Barking And Dagenham London Borough Council, Basingstoke And Deane Borough Council And Hampshire County Council, Redbridge London Borough Council, Havering London Borough Council, Nuneaton And Bedworth Borough Council And Warwickshire County Council, Rochdale Metropolitan Borough Council, Test Valley Borough Council And Hampshire County Council, Thurrock Council.

Interveners in support of the Respondents are HS2 Ltd and the Secretary of State for Transport, Rt Hon Mark Harper MP.