Supreme Court judgment on 'Persons Unknown' injunctions

Press release
Friends, Families and Travellers, Friends of the Earth and Liberty react
  Published:  29 Nov 2023    |      3 minute read

Friends of the Earth and Liberty have responded to the judgment in an appeal against the use of ‘persons unknown’ injunctions which target both Gypsy and Traveller communities and environmental protestors. The appeal was brought by London Gypsies and Travellers, Friends, Families and Travellers and Derbyshire Gypsy Liaison Group.

Although the Supreme Court today did not uphold the appeal, it recognised the rights of Gypsy and Traveller communities to maintain their nomadic way of life, and made important findings which limit the basis for making these injunctions, making  it more difficult for them to be used against these communities. The Court also provided guidance which will limit the scope of the injunctions and is likely to prevent them from operating across entire boroughs and for indefinite periods of time. This is highly significant for the injunctions currently in place, given the breadth of land that many of them cover, and the fact that they will be coming up for review by the courts.

However, these constraints do not apply to protest-related injunctions, and the Court ruled that persons unknown injunctions can continue to be used against people who were not involved in the activity or protest that was the target of the original injunction, meaning that environmental protestors continue to be at risk from this parallel system of criminal justice.                                                                                                      

Abbie Kirkby, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at Friends, Families and Travellers said this about the discriminatory nature of the wide injunctions:

“We have been determined to challenge the discriminatory and disproportionate use of these injunctions, used to target Gypsy and Traveller families who have nowhere else to stop. This is just one of the very many prohibitive approaches and eviction powers used to target Travellers and it’s key that the Supreme Court recognises the significance of the lack of site provision and the need for ”compelling justification’ for such an order to be sought and granted by the Court. We see this as a shot across the bows to local authorities – that their hostile approaches to Traveller communities will not go unchecked.”  

Katie de Kauwe, a lawyer at Friends of the Earth, which supported the legal challenge over concerns that ‘persons unknown’ injunctions are increasingly being used against environmental protesters, as well as targeting already marginalised Gypsy and Traveller communities, said:

“As an environmental justice organisation, Friends of the Earth is proud to have intervened in support of this important appeal challenging the use of draconian, ‘borough-wide’ injunctions targeting Gypsy and Traveller communities. Although the appeal was rejected, there are positive aspects that will make it harder for local authorities to obtain these sorts of injunctions in relation to these communities.

“We are disappointed by the findings in relation to protest rights, which we will be considering carefully. Our view remains that anti-protest injunctions are a confusing, opaque, parallel system of prohibitions that private companies and public authorities are using to create their own bespoke public order laws, and that these orders can result in the suppression of lawful, peaceful environmental protest.

“However, we welcome the judgment’s recognition that Gypsy and Traveller communities have a right to maintain their unique, nomadic way of life, and that public authorities need to provide sufficient sites to make that possible. This is a step forward in protecting the human rights of a community subject to widespread discrimination.”                                                                                    

Katy Watts, lawyer at Liberty who intervened in the case, said:

“We all want to live in a world where our way of life and our basic rights are respected – and we are pleased to see that the Supreme Court has recognised that the use of these powers against the Gypsy and Traveller communities should be limited.

“However, this judgment hands private companies the power to control and suppress protests - and will leave many people too afraid to exercise their right to protest at all. ‘Persons unknown’ injunctions are sprawling legal tools which people may not even know about, but which leave them at risk of becoming caught up in scary, complicated and cripplingly expensive legal proceedings.

“This judgment is yet another example of how hard it is getting for people in this country to live freely and make their voices heard. As a step towards reversing this dangerous trend the Government must get rid of powers created under the Police Crime Sentencing and Courts Act which criminalise the Gypsy and Traveller communities’ way of life and make it harder for people to protest.”


  • Friends of the Earth Limited was represented in these proceedings by Stephanie Harrison KC, Stephen Clark and Fatima Jichi, all of Garden Court Chambers, by the law firm Hodge, Jones and Allen and it’s own in-house legal specialists.
  • The Appellants were represented by Richard Drabble KC of Landmark Chambers and by Marc Willers KC, Tessa Buchanan and Owen Greenhall, all of Garden Court Chambers. Their solicitors were Community Law Partnership.