CORONAVIRUS, COURT HEARINGS (WITH NO ONE PRESENT) AND SOCIAL MEDIA: ALL IN ONE CASE

The judgment today of HHJ Worster (sitting as a High Court Judge) in Wolverhampton City Council & Ors v Persons Unknown [2020] EWHC 759 (QB) was given after the claimant did not attend the hearing because of the coronavirus crisis. It also shows a consultation by “social media”.

THE CASE

The court had granted an injunction prohibiting car cruising in the areas of the claimant local authorities.   The claimants sought a review and renewal of the order which was listed for hearing on the 30th March.

NON-ATTENDANCE AT  COURT AND THE PROCESS OF CONSULTATION

  1.  As a consequence of the COVID 19 outbreak and the restrictions on movement announced by HM Government, I directed that the Claimant’s attendance be dispensed with. This hearing is 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.
  2. In the circumstances, the Claimants proposed that they “consult” through social media. I approved that course, and as a result they issued a press release on the Wolverhampton CC Facebook page inviting responses for and against, and publicised it further in the Express and Star, on Midlands Today and on local radio stations. They received four responses, each of which makes a contribution to the review of this order.
  3. The first is from a gentleman who runs a “big car event” in Stoke. He says that he has 500 cars at each event, no anti-social behaviour, good police presence throughout the night with very little complaint. The second is from a resident of the WV14 postcode, who complains that the injunction has been ineffective and that it is still common at the weekend at night to hear cars “rallying and doing stunt drifts on the local car parks and industrial estates”. The third is from a manager at Wolverhampton CC concerned that with improving weather and the strain placed on police forces by the COVID 19 outbreak, drivers will take advantage of the empty roads and use them as racetracks, leading to further deaths. The final contribution is a plea to keep the injunction because the NHS cannot cope with people getting hurt on the roads on top of the coronavirus pandemic.

THE DECISION

The judge extended the order.

  1. The suggestion that these “events” are policed is not one which justifies variation or discharge, whether in the current situation or at all. These “events” take place on the highway and private property such as supermarket car park sand industrial estates without the permission of the relevant authority or landowner. They have led to accidents and injury and are a nuisance to those who live nearby or want to use the highway for lawful purposes. If they were organised on a private racetrack or some suitably safe environment that would be one thing. But they are not. And as the Claimant submits, “it is an inappropriate unnecessary and wasteful use of Police resources to police such events when resources are stretched thin”. I agree.
  2. This order continues to fulfil the purposes for which it was granted, and appears to be operating satisfactorily. Having reviewed the matter, this order is to continue in force. No further order is required.