If you need to shield digital belongings, together with cryptocurrency, towards precise or threatened conversion or fraud, English courts are the most effective locations to do it. The instruments obtainable are formidable and judges are proving each inventive and adaptable.


Imogen Jones

Assuming the asset satisfies the standards of ‘property’, the preliminary points to be addressed by claimants are: tracing the belongings; making use of for disclosure orders to acquire details about the brand new holder; and addressing jurisdictional and repair points.

This query is essential in figuring out the sort of reduction obtainable, notably on an pressing without-notice foundation.

Mr Justice Bryan in AA v Individuals Unknown [2019] EWHC 3556 (Comm) addressed what cryptocurrency is when requested to make an order for reduction and restitution in regard to ransomed bitcoin. He adopted the reasoning within the UK Jurisdictional Taskforce’s Authorized Assertion on Cryptoassets and Sensible Contracts (November 2019), which set out why the authors contemplate cryptoassets to be property. On that foundation he felt capable of grant a proprietary injunction. A freezing order was not granted on this occasion as a result of threat of dissipation couldn’t clearly be established towards both the change or individuals unknown. Though not granted right here, freezing orders might be made towards individuals unknown within the English courts, so long as the category of individual is comparatively particular, so this shouldn’t be neglected as a treatment obtainable in these claims.

Asset preservation orders (APO) are additionally an obtainable reduction for claimants. In Robertson v Individuals Unknown & Ors (unreported),

16 July 2019, the sufferer of a spear phishing assault made a declare for restitution of their 100 bitcoin and sought an APO for 80 bitcoin which they traced to a Coinbase account (a UK-based change). Mrs Justice Moulder made the APO which prevented any dealings with the bitcoin.

The most important problem is commonly figuring out the brand new holder of the misappropriated digital belongings and the displaced proprietor will probably be searching for an order towards ‘individuals unknown’. In English courts it’s potential to get interim reduction towards individuals unknown, however finally you will want to seek out an precise individual towards whom to implement any restitutionary order.

It’s notably helpful in the event you can hyperlink the misappropriated digital belongings to a crypto-exchange, since they’re required to maintain ‘know your buyer’ data of which disclosure might be sought. Specialist investigation firms might be enlisted to hint the digital belongings to an change.

Norwich Pharmacal Orders (NPO) and/or Bankers Belief Orders (BTO) can be utilized to request third-party disclosure from an change. In Robertson, Moulder J made a BTO requiring Coinbase to reveal data in relation to its account-holder.

NPOs usually are not obtainable towards a authorized entity primarily based outdoors the jurisdiction, however a inventive different could also be potential. In AA v Individuals Unknown, Bryan J made a third-party disclosure order out of the jurisdiction utilizing an ancillary order to the proprietary injunction.

Digital belongings might be traded from wherever so you might want to influence a decide that the wrongdoing has a ample nexus with the jurisdiction of the English courtroom. You might also must justify a request for service out of the jurisdiction and/or by an alternate means.  

Following the BTO in Robertson, the claimant was capable of hint the proprietor of the Coinbase account to Nigeria and, as such, was given permission to serve a declare out of the jurisdiction.

The place an change holding the digital belongings is situated outdoors the jurisdiction, this may current additional challenges. In AA v Individuals Unknown permission was given for service of the declare outdoors of the jurisdiction underneath two jurisdictional gateways, particularly: (5) for interim cures in help of overseas proceedings ; and (9) for claims in tort the place the loss or the act occurred within the jurisdiction. The applying of those jurisdictional gateways has been criticised, as there was no point out of current or future overseas proceedings able to participating gateway 5 and it was not established the place the loss was suffered or the place the act was dedicated by individuals unknown. Claimants making an attempt to depend on this case in without-notice functions ought to bear these points in thoughts.  

The courtroom has energy underneath CPR 6.15 to make an order for service by an alternate technique and claimants have obtained orders for service towards individuals unknown at a number of of: the e-mail handle used to make a ransom demand; addresses disclosed by exchanges; social media channels; and by submitting it at courtroom.

In Toma v Murray [2020] EWHC 2295 (Ch), a dealer transferred bitcoin however the fee was reversed leaving them with out their bitcoin or their cash. The brand new holder of the bitcoin was recognized as Mr Murray. The interim freezing order over the bitcoin was not maintained because the courtroom was happy that on the steadiness of comfort Murray had ample belongings to satisfy any declare and that damages had been an sufficient treatment.

A key subject going through the courtroom is the volatility of the worth of bitcoin. The courtroom thought of the worth given to the bitcoin on the time of the sale, and consequently deemed it to be a declare for the worth paid. The defendant was precluded from promoting the bitcoin within the interim with out the consent of the claimant as a method of neutralising the danger, although clearly a pointy rise or fall within the value of bitcoin can be vital to the events.

The place a defendant has been recognized and doesn’t pose a threat of disappearing, claimants could have to simply accept that damages is perhaps thought of an sufficient treatment and may try to quantify their loss accordingly.

Circumstances have clearly proven that English courts have established helpful floor guidelines for responding to claims involving digital belongings. Claimants can subsequently provoke pressing without-notice functions for interim reduction with full confidence that the legislation has tailored and can proceed to adapt to the challenges posed by new expertise.


Patrick Wheeler is a committee member of the London Solicitors Litigation Affiliation and associate at Collyer Bristow. Imogen Jones is an affiliate at Collyer Bristow