In this important decision the Court of Appeal considered the approach to the committal of defendants caught by an injunction made against persons unknown.
Injunctions were granted against persons unknown preventing them from stationing caravans on land in Bromley and South Cambridgeshire. Gypsies proceeded to breach the injunctions. The injunctions were explained to the gypsies: the gypsies stayed put. On applications to commit, the gypsies argued that they needed to be added as parties to the action and that this should not happen until inquiries into their personal circumstances had been carried out, following South Bucks v Porter. Two County Court judges disagreed. On appeal to the Court of Appeal this contention was again rejected. The Master of the Rolls, having stressed the importance of the principle articulated in Mid Beds DC v Brown  1 WLR 1460 (that the court should be astute to ensure that its orders are obeyed and should not vary orders at the behest of those who have already breached them) explained the approach to be taken in such cases as follows –
‘1. The principles in South Bucks … apply when the court is considering whether to grant an injunction against named defendants.
‘2. They do not apply in full when a court is considering whether or not to grant an injunction against persons unknown because the relevant personal information would, ex hypothesi, not be available. However this fact makes it important for courts only to grant such injunctions in cases where it is not possible for the applicant to identify the persons concerned or likely to be concerned.
‘3. The correct course for a person who learns that he is enjoined and who wishes to take further action, which is or would be in breach of the injunction, and thus in contempt of court, is not to take such action but to apply to the court for an order varying or setting aside the order. On such an application the court should apply the principles in South Bucks.
‘4. The correct course for a person who appreciates that he is infringing the injunction when he learns of it is to apply to the court forthwith for an order varying or setting aside the injunction. On such an application the court should again apply the principles in South Bucks.
‘5. A person who takes action in breach of the injunction in the knowledge that he is in breach may apply to the court to vary the injunction for the future. He should acknowledge that he is in breach and explain why he took the action knowing of the injunction. The court will then take account of all the circumstances of the case, including the reasons for the injunction, the reasons for the breach and the applicant’s personal circumstances, in deciding whether to vary the injunction for the future and in deciding what, if any, penalty the court should impose for a contempt committed when he took the action in breach of the injunction. In the first case the court will apply the principles in South Bucks and in Mid Bedfordshire DC v Brown.
‘6. In cases where the injunction was granted at a without notice hearing a defendant can apply to set aside the injunction as well as to vary it for the future. Where, however, a defendant has acted in breach of the injunction in knowledge of its existence before the setting aside, he remains in breach of the injunction for the past and in contempt of court even if the injunction is subsequently set aside or varied.
‘7. The principles in South Bucks are irrelevant to the question whether or not a person is in breach of an injunction and/or whether he is in contempt of court, because the sole question in such a case is whether he is in breach and/or whether he is in contempt of court. It should be noted that neither appellant applied to the judge for an order varying the injunction for the future. It follows that the judge had no proper opportunity in each case to apply those principles to the case before her.’
Richard Langham appeared (with David Elvin QC) for South Cambridgeshire District Council. The injunction being enforced was the injunction granted by the Court of Appeal in South Cambridgeshire District Council v Persons Unknown  EWCA Civ 1280;  JPL 680, in which Richard Langham also appeared.