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Lawbite: Possession Proceedings and Injunctive Relief

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Wensley and 11 Others v Persons Unknown and Others [2014] EWHC 3086 (Ch)

This High Court decision provides clarification in respect of two important issues when dealing with claims for possession of property and injunctive relief. 

This was a claim brought by a number of Claimants against “anti-fracking” protestors, and related to some areas of land which were occupied by the protestors, and others which it was thought they might target in future.  The First and Second Claimants, who owned land which was occupied, were granted an order for possession.  All of the Claimants were granted injunctions restraining future trespass over all of their respective tracts of land specified in the claim.  Only the First and Second Claimants were granted declaratory relief.  The judgment provides clarity on two issues:

  1.  Injunctions against “Persons Unknown”

 The Court showed a continued willingness to grant anti-trespass injunctions against a formulation of “persons unknown”, following that set out in the case of Hampshire Waste Services Limited v Intending Trespassers upon Chineham Incinerator Site [2003] EWHC 1738 (Ch).  An injunction was granted against “persons entering or remaining on” the land”.

  1.  Declaratory Relief

Declarations as to the respective Claimants’ entitlement to possession of the various parcels of land were sought in accordance with Lord Neuberger’s judgment in Secretary of State for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs v Meier and another [2009] UKSC 11, where it was suggested that declarations could be sought by claimants in possession proceedings in relation to land not actually subject to a current trespass, and that such declarations might assist a claimant in issuing a writ of restitution to recover possession, if land the subject of a declaration were subsequently to be occupied by trespassers.    

Clarifying Lord Neuberger’s judgment in Meier, the Judge in this case held that such declarations could only be obtained by Claimants in whose favour an order for possession was being made.  Such declarations could be made in respect of land not actually subject to a current trespass, provided that the land was in the ownership of the Claimants in whose favour an order for possession was being made.  Accordingly, in this case, declaratory relief was only granted in favour of the First and Second Claimants.  

An injunction may be obtained against “persons unknown”, provided that the formulation is in accordance with that set down in Hampshire Waste: the fact that defendants cannot be identified by name does not preclude the imposition of an injunction.  The Court will grant declarations in aid of possession in respect of land subject to a current trespass, but only where the party seeking the declaration is also being granted an order for possession in respect of land currently subject to a trespass.