In Clarkson Plc v Person or Persons Unknown  EWHC 417 (QB), the court granted the Claimant’s application for a final injunction by way of default judgment in the absence of a hearing.
Summary of the Facts
The Claimant, Clarkson Plc, is London based shipping company and the Defendant(s) are one or more unknown individuals who unlawfully gained access to the Claimant’s computer systems and obtained a considerable quantity of information. The Defendant(s) then threatened to release the information to the public, unless a very substantial sum of money was paid.
The Claimant applied for an interim ex parte injunction with derogations from open justice and the matter came before Teare J on 27 November 2017 who granted the injunction. On 14 December 2017, that interim injunction was further extended by Warby J who gave directions as to how the matter should proceed towards trial. In particular, Warby J permitted service by email so the Claim Form, the Particulars of Claim and any other document could served on the Defendants, via the email address used to make the blackmail demands.
After no acknowledgment of service was filed and/or defence was filed or served, the Claimants sought a default judgment pursuant to CPR 12.3(1) and a permanent injunction and to keep the derogations from open justice in place.
It was held that it was an appropriate application to determine on paper because: “[t]he claimant’s case, as set out in the particulars of claim, shows a clear need to restrain the defendant(s) from carrying out the threatened disclosures, and I therefore grant the principal injunctions sought, which are in the same terms as my interim order.”
Throughout the course of the proceedings, the Defendant(s) had failed to engage with the claim and it was acknowledged that a further hearing would merely add to the expense of the claim without serving any useful purpose. The open justice principle was respected by handing down judgment and publicising the fact that the order had been made and the basis for making it. Consideration was given to the fact that the case had not proceeded in secret and there had already been two hearings, at each of which a public judgment was given.
Referring to PJS v News Group Newspapers Limited  EWHC 2770 (QB) which had also been decided “on the papers”, the judge explained that CPR 23.8 provides for exceptions to the general rule that hearings are to be carried out in public.
This type of blackmail is becoming increasingly common, and the need for legal remedies against the perpetrators is beginning to overcome the court’s traditional reluctance to impose sanctions on unknown persons. In a similar case late last year, the High Court issued the first ever worldwide freezing order against the assets of unidentified persons who had committed an email interception fraud, see: CMOC v Persons Unknown  EWHC 3599 Comm.