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Available Relief when even Identities of Wrongdoers are Unknown

Nov 21, 2018

What remedy can a claimant pursue when even the actual identities of wrongdoers are unknown? 

Such an issue is only likely to be encountered with greater frequency given the increasing sophistication of the internet’s facility for anonymity and its intrusion into every facet of modern day living.

International Common Law, true to its tradition for adaptability to meet modern needs and provide relief for claimants’ interests, has steadily been developing a string of case law in Hong Kong and England and Wales, awarding injunctive relief in favour of disadvantaged claimants against defendants described not by name but by reference to his/her/their conduct in order to provide remedy and relief in a whole series of cases and circumstances.

The English Courts first granted an injunction against persons unknown who accessed copies of unpublished Harry Potter books without authority in Bloomsbury Publishing Group plc and another v News Group Newspapers Ltd and others [2003] EWHC 1205 (Ch).  The Court confirmed that while a defendant should be named, the failure to give the name of the defendant will not invalidate the proceedings.  This case provided valuable initial precedent for the Courts’ jurisdiction to grant injunctions against persons unknown, whose anonymity enables their wrongdoing but which the Courts will otherwise not permit to shield them from the legal consequences.

The Hong Kong Courts then readily endorsed this approach in the trespass case of Billion Star Development Ltd v Wong Tak Chuen [2012] 2 HKLRD 85, where an injunction against some 100 protesters, some of whom were masked and therefore to all intent and purposes anonymous, was ordered to restrain them from trespassing and interfering with the plaintiff’s right of way. 

Injunctive relief was also awarded by the Hong Kong High Court to restrain the disclosure of two audio recordings of a meeting of the Council of the University of Hong Kong made by person(s) unknown  in University of Hong Kong v Hong Kong Commercial Broadcasting Co Ltd [2016] 1 HKLRD 536. 

The Hong Kong Courts have thus demonstrated their commitment and adaptability when it comes to protecting the legal rights of the plaintiff, even where the wrongdoers are not known.

Most recently injunctive relief was also extended by the English Courts to the making of a worldwide freezing injunction in CMOC Sales & Marketing Limited v Persons Unknown and 30 others [2018] EWHC 2330 (Comm), in which persons unknown hacked the email account of a director of the plaintiff to cause its bank to make unauthorized transfers to bank accounts in various countries.  The English Court ordered a worldwide freezing injunction against ‘persons unknown’, and disclosure orders against payee banks requiring disclosure of bank account details and names and particulars of account holders.

Most recently, an interim injunction to restrain busking activities and street performances by persons unknown on the open piazza in Times Square was granted by the Hong Kong High Court.

While case law is still developing in this area and the full scope of availability of injunctive relief against persons unknown is yet to be seen, the Hong Kong Common Law system has been playing its part and shown flexibility in its approach by its preparedness to adapt to the changing modern day problems and circumstances in order to provide remedies in otherwise uncharted territories. 


Author: Barry Hoy
Researcher: Shane Cheng


For more information on Litigation & Dispute Resolution matters, please contact:-
Barry Hoy | | +852 2861 8415


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