On 6 April 2015, the power of Masters and District Judges in the High Court to grant injunctions was significantly extended. This is the effect of amendments to Practice Direction 2B to the Civil Procedure Rules, which deals with the allocation of cases to different levels of the judiciary.
The amendments removed paragraphs 2.2 to 2.4 of the Practice Direction, which previously restricted the jurisdiction of Masters and District Judges to:
- granting injunctions in terms agreed by the parties or ancillary to a charging order or an order appointing a receiver by way of equitable execution; and
- varying or discharging injunctions where all the parties consented to the variation or discharge.
The only limitation on their jurisdiction remains in paragraph 2.1 of the Practice Direction, which provides that search orders, freezing orders and ancillary orders may still only be made by a Judge.
According to a paper produced by the office of the Chancellor of the High Court for the Rules Committee, the reason for reforming the Practice Direction was that the restrictions it contained were based on the assumption that one can clearly distinguish what an injunction is and is not. It did not take into account that the glossary to the CPR defines an injunction very broadly, as “a court order prohibiting a person from doing something or requiring a person to do something”. This caused uncertainty in the scope of Masters’ and District Judges’ powers.
The underlying rationale of why Masters and District judges should not be permitted to grant most injunctions was also not obvious as they regularly make orders which are akin to injunctions (such as orders for specific performance and Norwich Pharmacal orders) and other others with consequences that are as serious as many types of injunctions (such as “highly intrusive” orders for possession and for sale).
Search orders and freezing orders have been excluded from the reforms due to their highly intrusive consequences. It is felt that, as both Divisions of the High Court already have well-established arrangements for dealing with such applications, there is no need for Masters and District Judges to have the ability to grant them.
It is hoped that the practical impact of the change of the Practice Direction is that Masters and District Judges are enabled to take on a greater range of casework and that consequently some of the burden on High Court Judges is relieved. The change also means that on occasions where it was previously uncertain whether the residing Master or District Judge would have the ability to grant the sought remedy, the application must no longer be adjourned to a Judge in order to avoid the risk of an invalid order.
At present, the amended version of Practice Direction 2B is only available here. We expect it to be fully integrated into the text of Civil Procedure Rules shortly. Practical Law subscribers can view the Chancellor’s paper to the Rules Committee here.