The Court of Protection, injunctions and persons unknown

In Re SF (Injunctions) [2020] EWCOP 19, Keehan J was concerned with a young woman, SF, who had a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder and also had learning disabilities. She resided in a supported living establishment where she received 1:1 support 24 hours per day. In September 2019 the care and support provider became aware that SF was communicating with a number of men via social media and the internet. Further, it became apparent that some of these men were attending her placement and having sexual relations with her. Only one of those men had been identified, as VK.

On 28 January 2020 the local authority applied for an injunction against VK to prevent him from attending SF’s accommodation. On 5 February 2020 the local authority applied for an injunction in the same terms against ‘persons unknown’.

Keehan J had not, initially, been persuaded that the Court of Protection had the power to grant an injunction against either a party or a non-party. He convened a hearing on the specific point, and this judgment contains his reasons for concluding that it does have the power, in summary because:

i) s.47(1) of the 2005 Act is drafted in wide and unambiguous terms;

ii) it must follow that the Court of Protection has the power which may be exercised by the High Court pursuant to s.37(1) of the 1981 Act to grant injunctive relief;

iii) this conclusion is fortified by the terms of s.17(1)(c) of the 2005 Act which permits the court to prohibit contact between a named person and P;

iv) it is further fortified by the terms of ss. 16(2) & (5) of the 2005 Act. The provisions of s.16(5) are drafted in wide terms and enable the court to “make such further orders or give such directions…….as it thinks necessary or expedient for giving effect to, or otherwise in connection with, an order…….made by it under subsection (2)”;

v) finally, the 2017 Rules, r.21 & PD21A, make provision for the enforcement of orders made by the Court of Protection including committal to prison for proven breaches of court orders.

Whilst the judgment is a careful analysis of the position, it is (with respect) a little odd in 2020 for it even to have been a question-mark over whether the Court of Protection had such a power. The chapter in the Court of Protection Handbook addressing enforcement notes – for instance – the case of W v M in 2011, in which Baker J had observed that there was “no doubt about the power of the Court of Protection to make injunctions.” Indeed, until recently suspended by COVID-19, the entire approach of the transparency Practice Direction depended upon the making of injunctions in the transparency order in each case against identified individuals/categories of individuals.

What is more interesting, but tantalisingly not addressed in detail in SF’s case, is the power to make an injunction against persons unknown. This power has not to date been addressed in a reported case, although in EXB v FDZ [2018] EWHC 3456 (QB), Foskett J, sitting both as a High Court judge and a judge of the Court of Protection, was asked in the context of a case as to whether an individual should be told the size of their personal injury award to consider making “an order – effectively in the form of an injunction – preventing any person who knows of the size of the award from disclosing that information to the Claimant. It would be akin to an order for possession against ‘persons unknown’ in possession proceedings.” Foskett J declined to do so, because whilst he could “see the attractions of a mandatory order such as that suggested […], I am not at all sure how such an order could be policed and how anyone in breach of it could be dealt with. An order with a penal notice attached seems somewhat disproportionate and draconian in the circumstances and an order without teeth is arguably an order that should not be made” (paragraph 42).   Foskett J made an order (under both s.16 and s.15(1)(c) MCA 2005) to the effect that “[i]t shall be unlawful for any person (whether the Claimant’s deputy or any other person who has knowledge of the amount of the Settlement) to convey by any means to the Claimant information about the amount of the Settlement, save that this declaration does not make unlawful the conveyance of descriptive information to the Claimant to the effect that the Settlement is sufficient to meet his reasonable needs for life.” However, because of his previous analysis, what Foskett J did not then do was then go one stage further and consider whether he could, in fact, seek to back such an order by way of an injunction.

The order against VK could clearly be made as a step required to enforce the decision of the Court of Protection (permitted by s.17(1)(c) MCA 2005) to permit contact between VK – as a named individual – and SF. That would not apply in relation to the injunction against ‘persons unknown.’ However, as a matter of logic, if the Court of Protection has the same ‘powers, rights and privileges’ as the High Court, it is necessarily to look back up the line to the High Court for the answer.  The Supreme Court has relatively recently considered the position – by reference to civil litigation – in Cameron v Liverpool Victoria Insurance Co Ltd [2019] UKSC 6. Lord Sumption, on behalf of the Supreme Court, identified that that there are conceptual difficulties in relation to the bringing of a claim in relation to those who are not only anonymous but cannot even be identified. However, where, as in a case such as the present, the potential respondents are potentially identifiable (and could also, in principle, be served with the application form – by a person waiting at the placement and giving it to them), these difficulties do not arise, proceedings can be brought, and injunctions then granted to enforce the relief granted in those proceedings (see also Canada Goose UK Retail Ltd & Anor v Persons Unknown & Anor [2019] EWHC 2459 (QB)).