Injunctions against Persons Unknown: From Harry Potter to high-tech fraudsters


Injunctions, whether interim or final, are always directed against clearly identifiable persons (natural or legal). Until recently, this meant that the objects of an injunction, that is the persons to whom they are directed, had to be named.

Rapid technological advances have not only affected the way through which business is transacted but have also given fraudsters new tools through which they can carry out their wrongful acts behind a veil of anonymity. Legal practitioners and Courts are therefore required to adapt to this changing landscape and offer innovative and effective legal solutions to such novel problems. The developments outlined below, regarding the Courts’ jurisdiction to issue injunctions against persons unknown, offer a strong tool for combating modern forms of fraud.

The jurisdiction to issue injunctions against persons unknown can be traced back to the English case of Bloomsbury Publishing Group v News Group Newspapers Ltd [2003] EWHC 1205 (Ch). In that case, which involved unauthorised publishing of the then unreleased fifth Harry Potter book, the Court issued an interim injunction against a defendant (or multiple defendants) of unknown name, thus establishing the principle that injunctions can be issued against unknown persons. The Court stated that in relation to the defendants “the description used must be sufficiently certain as to identify both those who are included and those who are not”. Hence, the Court did away with the requirement and past practice of actually naming the defendant. As confirmed by the English Court of Appeal in Canada Goose UK Retail Ltd v Persons Unknown [2020] 1 WLR 2802, persons unknown in the claim form must be people who have not been identified but are capable of being identified and served with the proceedings.

The peculiar nature of such injunctions against defendants unknown raises issues as to how the (unnamed) defendants are to be notified/served with the injunction. In Singapore’s recent and very first such injunction the High Court, in the case of CLM v CLN and others [2022] SGHC 46, permitted substituted service of the injunction. The Court identified that it would be impractical to serve the injunction on the persons unknown personally, as their physical whereabouts were unknown since they had used Virtual Private Network services (VPNs) to hide their physical locations. This is an important development as such injunctions are expected in most cases to require service to be conducted by substituted means. This should be an area of significant evolution with service being permitted to be conducted in unorthodox ways, such as via an airdrop of an NFT into the fraudsters’ wallets (D’Aloia v Persons Unknown and Binance Holdings Limited & Others [2022] EWHC 1723 (Ch)).

Another important aspect of this type of injunctions is the potential to bind “newcomers”, that is, people who fall within the definition of persons unknown after the injunction has been issued (persons, who are both unknown and unidentified). In the case of London Borough of Barking and Dagenham and Others v Persons Unknown, London Gypsies and Travellers intervening [2022] EWCA Civ 13 the English Court of Appeal held that final injunctions can only bind such “persons unknown” who have, by the hearing of the final injunction, become parties to the proceedings and thus cannot bind newcomers. However, this decision was overturned by the English Court of Appeal in Barking and Dagenham v Persons Unknown [2022] EWCA Civ 13 as being inconsistent with previous case law. The legal position now is that newcomers can indeed be bound by an injunction against persons unknown.

Though the Cypriot Courts have yet to issue an injunction against persons unknown the above developments are of great importance. The Cypriot Courts have in the past closely followed and adopted the approach of the Common Law, especially in the area of injunctions (e.g. Norwich Pharmacal orders, Anton Piller orders). The innovative tools for combating fraud are likely to be recognised and adopted by the Cypriot Courts when called upon to find solutions to new problems.

The content of this article is valid as at the date of its first publication. It is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter and does not constitute legal advice. We recommend that you seek professional advice on your specific matter before acting on any information provided. For further information or advice, please contact Yiannis Zavros, Associate, at yiannis.zavros@kyprianou.com