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Wolverhampton City Council & Ors v Persons Unknown  EWHC 75
This was a review hearing for a quia timet injunction against ‘car cruising’ in areas of the Claimant local authorities before His Honour Judge Worster sitting as a High Court Judge in the QBD, Birmingham District Registry. ‘Car cruising’, or ‘street cruising’ as it is sometimes defined, is a congregation of two or more motor vehicles driving dangerously or in an anti-social way so as to cause nuisance, damage or danger to the public; usually gatherings to race or perform stunts in cars, motorbikes or quad bikes, which have been a particular problem in particular parts of Birmingham.
The injunction was originally granted in 2014 and renewed for a further 3 years in January 2018 subject to a review hearing.
The hearing was listed for 30 March 2020. Due to the COVID 19 pandemic and the restrictions on movement announced by the Government on 23 March 2020, the Judge directed that the Claimants’ attendance be dispensed with, and that the Claimants consult through social media by publicising a press release and inviting responses. Four responses were received and taken into account by the Judge.
The Judge stated in his judgment that the hearing was “technically in open court, but the reality of the restrictions on movement at the moment is such that further steps are desirable to ensure that the public are aware of the court’s continued consideration of this order. This short written judgment can be published on BAILII to satisfy that requirement.”
The Judge considered the Claimants’ written representations and the responses from the consultation. He held that the order should continue in force, applying the principles in the recent Court of Appeal decisions in Boyd v Ineos Upstream Ltd  EWCA Civ 515, Cuadrilla v Persons Unknown  EWHC 2459 and Canada Goose UK Retail Ltd v Persons Unknown  EWCA Civ 303 (see Jack Dillon‘s article on Canada Goose). In particular he took into account the increased danger these activities pose at a time when the NHS and the Police are stretched.
This is an interesting example of the new era that we find ourselves in, but it is not clear from the Judgment how this case fits with the new rules in terms of public hearings. To recap:
“… remote hearings should, so far as possible, still be public hearings. This can be achieved in a number of ways: (a) one person (whether judge, clerk or official) relaying the audio and (if available) video of the hearing to an open court room; (b) allowing accredited journalists to log in to the remote hearing; and/or (c) live streaming of the hearing over the internet…”
In short, the Courts should strive to hold hearings in public, either by broadcasting, whether audio or video, to an open court room (para 8(a) Protocol, para 2 PD 51Y), or making the hearing accessible to journalists/ the media (para 8(b) Protocol, para 3 PD 51Y), or livestreamed on the internet (para 8(c) of the Protocol). But if it is not practicable to put one of these into effect, then the hearing is ‘in private’ and must be recorded, and can be accessed on the request of any person with the consent of the court.
Accordingly, in the present case, when HHJ Worster said that the hearing was still “technically in open court” that should mean that it was broadcast or livestreamed as per para 8 of the Protocol and para 2 PD51Y, but there was no reference to this in the judgment. Instead the Judge referred to ‘further steps’ being desirable and a short written judgment being published on BAILII to that end. It is clear from the rules that publication on BAILII alone will not be sufficient to make a ‘public hearing’. Parties should encourage the Courts to be clear in giving judgment whether a hearing is being held in public or private, and if in public then how the proceedings are being broadcast or livestreamed, in order to ensure compliance with the new PD51Y.
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