Summary: The High Court recently granted an order permitting service of an injunction order on an anonymous defendant by text message. This pragmatic approach from the Court to a case of an anonymous blackmail shows that the Courts continue to be willing to develop novel ways of notifying parties of proceedings when the circumstances justify it.

As one of the youngest judges on the bench, Mr Justice Nicklin is proving himself to be wholly familiar with the various options and opportunities offered by our numerous new methods of modern communications.

He recently granted the now fairly common order to permit service of an injunction by email in PML v Persons Unknown (responsible for demanding money from the Claimant on 27 February 2018I Defendant [2018] EWHC 838 (QB) but took it a step further in NPV v (1) QEL (2) ZED (person unknown allegedly trying to blackmail the Claimant [2018] EWHC 703 (QB) when he granted an order permitting alternative service by text message.

On the facts of the case and the steps being taken by the claimant, this was a pragmatic ruling that ensured that the parties would all have notice of the proceedings and the terms of the injunction order.

The claimant was a successful businessman who was being blackmailed in connection with a short affair he had had with a former professional contact. The proceedings were commenced by this businessman against his former professional contact, QEL, and an individual who had contacted the businessman claiming to be working on an article about powerful people who abused their positions, ZED. QEL and ZED claimed not to be working together but over a number of interactions with them it became clear to the claimant that ZED had information and documents in his possession that could only have come from QEL. Representatives of the claimant met with ZED and it became clear that he was trying to extort money from the claimant to prevent publication of the story. Ultimately, ZED agreed to accept £75,000 and a meeting was fixed to handover this money.

In the interim, the claimant had applied to court for an injunction to restrain the misuse of private information and prevent harassment. The court granted the injunction and it was intended that the injunction would be served on ZED at the meeting where he was expecting to be paid £75,000.

However, Mr Justice Nicklin, recognising the potential for service not to happen in this way, made an order for alternative service of the injunction by text message as it was “the only practical alternative means presently available”.

This is clearly a sensible decision from the court in light of the reality of the situation in which the litigants found themselves. However, it is further evidence that the court is willing to assist parties with difficulties serving where justified by permitting sensible and practical alternatives.

Where a defendant is attempting to evade service or is hiding behind some form of anonymity, litigants should consider whether asking for methods of alternative service is a good idea. After all, most people check their text messages fairly frequently!