News

Cyber-hacked barristers win High Court judgment against ‘persons unknown’

By on
12

Judge orders mystery criminals to hand over any info they may have obtained

Prestigious barristers’ chambers 4 New Square has secured a judgment in default against “persons unknown” after apparently falling victim to a cyber-attack.

Mr Justice Nicklin ordered the mystery hackers to hand over any information they may have obtained by 27 September or face possible contempt of court proceedings.

A previous injunction, granted by Mrs Justice Steyn in June, had said that the hackers were “blackmailing” the chambers.

The High Court has now issued a final injunction and entered judgment in default against “person or persons unknown responsible for engaging in a cyber-attack on the Applicants on or about 12 June 2021 and/or who has threatened to disclose the information thereby obtained”.

4 New Square evidently has no idea who the culprits are, having only an email address (presumably the source of the blackmail threats) to go on. The chambers has been approached for comment.

Nicklin said that the order could be served by email, with the names of individual lawyers redacted from the paperwork — perhaps for fear that they could be targeted in turn. Law firm RPC represented 4 New Square when it secured the June order, but Pinsent Masons are acting now.

Secure your place: The October 2021 UK Virtual Pupillage Fair

The terms of the final injunction tell the hackers not to “use, publish or communicate or disclose” any information they may have obtained from 4 New Square. In addition, “The Defendant must by 4pm on 27 September 2021 deliver up to the Claimants’ solicitors and/or delete the Information in his possession, custody or control”, backed up with a statement of truth.

Giving reasons for his decision, Nicklin wrote:

“The Defendant has not engaged with the proceedings and have not filed an Acknowledgement of Service or Defence. Little has changed since the hearing before Steyn J on 28 June 2021. Having considered the most recent witness statement, I am satisfied that the Claimants are entitled to default judgment.”

The 2021 Legal Cheek Chambers Most List

12 Comments

6 year PQE

Literally just here waiting for the comments to descend.

Anonymous

What an exciting area of law.

Al

It can be. I act for “persons unknown” occasionally in relation to injunctions. Protestors and activists.

Sometimes use of confidential information crops up in that. We don’t have criminal ag-gag laws here (yet); but companies try to achieve the same effect through civil law. Lots of defamation threats too.

You do get into some interesting debates about the difference between ‘persons unknown’ and ‘Persons known but not identified’.

It always ends with an analogy about someone nicking your car and whether you see them do it.

But there are also interesting procedural issues; do you even defend the application? That just puts you in the frame for costs. What do the applicants have to do by way of service? Both of the application, and the injunction itself? Stuff like that.

Bantamax III

Interesting. In your experience, will the persons unknown in a case like this have picked up the phone to a law firm for advice? And will the firm have given it, in circumstances where the client has blatantly committed a crime and has no intention of identifying itself to the authorities?

Al

It varies. But a not uncommon scenario is that an organisation, or individual, will contact either a friendly law firm or an organisation that provides legal advice to activists, and then that organisation will contact me.

A lot of campaigning is organised online. So applicants for injunctions may apply for alternative service. Say for example by sending the papers to a contact email, or even just posting to social media on a relevant site. (I know of at least one case of service by tweet).

You can imagine all the issues then around service and notice of injunctions.

But we can certainly give advice. A lot of the time the injunctions can be challenged on the merits anyway. Article 10 crops up a lot.

As for cooperating, well its well established in civil law that a potential defendant is under no obligation to make it easy for the other party to issue proceedings. You can not provide any info as to address and go on the lam from process servers.

There’s quite a few cases even in commercial law where defendant solicitors have spotted mistakes in service, and then just sat on them until limitation. The courts have been very clear they’re perfectly entitled to do that. It’s for Claimants to do all the running in issuing their claim correctly.

Ordinary Decent Englishman

Shows the mindset of the leftists towards the proper administration of justice. We need to sort out these types and the extinction rebellion mob too.

Anonymous

Thanks AI, very interesting. We’ve seen some shocking usage of injunctions and the like, e.g. the teenager who climbed the Shard being jailed.

Al

@ anonymous

Yeah. That’s one of the arguments against injunctions. That they lower the threshold for criminal liability. What with them being civil in nature.

So I usually argue that there’s no need to injunct criminal behaviour as the applicant already has a remedy i.e. calling the police.

The counter argument is of course “Then if they accept that’s not permitted by existing law your clients can’t really object to it being included in the injunction.”

Anonymous

Thanks AI. I think injunctions are a misuse of the legal process. In the Shard case the police weren’t going to do anything but the injunction allowed the teenager to be locked up by the back door. They shouldnt be allowed to injunct against things which are already criminal. People should object to being injuncted against things which are already against the law because they’re then open to be jailed for breaking the injuction rather than the underlying act, the former being treated more seriously than the latter and breach of the former being easier to prove.

Al

For anyone who wants to read up a bit more on how to injunct “persons unknown” this case sets out the issues very well:

https://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2020/303.html

AB

And this case shows how persons unknown can end up being punished:

https://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Ch/2020/2614.html

Anonymous

I believe the technical term in the trade is a “pissing in the wind injunction”.

Join the conversation

Related Stories