Court of Appeal overturns draconian injunctions preventing protests against INEOS fracking activities

Wednesday 3 April 2019

Stephanie Harrison QC and Stephen Simblet of Garden Court Chambers represented campaigner Joe Corré. They were instructed by Michael Oswald of Bhatt Murphy Solicitors, who also assisted the Friends of the Earth in-house lawyer Katie de Kauwe.

Henry Blaxland QC & Stephen Clark of Garden Court Chambers represented the intervenors, Friends of the Earth instructed by Michael Oswald of Bhatt Murphy Solicitors.

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The Court of Appeal has today, 3 April 2019, given judgment in INEOS v PERSONS UNKNOWN and allowed appeals against injunctions that had been obtained on allegations of conspiracy to injure by unlawful means and in public nuisance. As a result of the court's decision, injunctions were discharged and the claims based on those allegations were dismissed. The court allowed injunctions preventing trespass and interference with land confined to particular sites to remain in force temporarily pending reconsideration by the High Court, but said that even those needed further consideration as to whether the appropriate test under section 12 of the Human Rights Act 1998 was met, and to consider time limiting those injunctions.

Stephanie Harrison QC and Stephen Simblet, of the Garden Court Civil Liberties team successfully represented Joe Corré, an environmental campaigner and commentator, who had applied to take part in the proceedings to resist the injunction. Friends of the Earth took part as intervenors in the proceedings, and their written submissions were drafted by Henry Blaxland QC and Stephen Clark of Garden Court Chambers.

The claims were originally begun against “Persons Unknown”, with no named defendants served or brought before the court, and begun in secret. INEOS, a multinational chemicals company with interests in developing fracking, brought claims in trespass, private nuisance, public nuisance, harassment and conspiracy to injure by unlawful means. Following a High Court hearing in October 2017, Morgan J set aside his earlier injunction based on harassment, but granted claims based on the remaining torts. On appeal to the Court of Appeal the claims in public nuisance and conspiracy to injure were dismissed and the injunctions based on those claims were set aside. Longmore LJ, at paragraphs 31-34 , set out what he regarded as being the conditions before an injunction affecting rights of protest and sought against unknown persons who have not yet committed any tort. He considered these to be of critical importance when considering public rights of way and the attempts to fix people interfering with INEOS’ “supply chain” with liability in conspiracy to cause damage by unlawful means. 

The effect of this judgment is that the Court of Appeal has set aside those injunctions that purported to prevent unknown people across huge swathes of the country from taking part in protests which might affect INEOS’ suppliers. What INEOS had described to the press as “the most far- reaching injunction of its kind” has now been cut-back simply to prevent trespass at a few sites, most of which being empty fields where no activity is likely to take place in the foreseeable future. The uncertainty and chilling effect on protest and protestors that the previous orders had created has been substantially removed. 

Stephanie Harrison QC of Garden Court Chambers, said: 

"Today’s judgment recognises the serious chilling effect of the INEOS injunction on civil liberties, particularly the broad, sweeping terms of the injunction against wide categories of persons unknown.  

The outcome of this case serves to underline the importance of the Human Rights Act 1998 as a safeguard for fundamental freedoms like free speech and the right to protest. These rights are the life blood of our democracy. This judgment makes clear that the Court will intervene to prevent powerful companies like INEOS using draconian injunctions to intimidate and deter people from participating in lawful protest against fracking, which is widely seen by campaigners and local people affected to be dangerous and damaging to the environment and their communities."

Another party, Joe Boyd, was represented by Heather Williams QC and Jennifer Robinson of Doughty Street Chambers, with Blinne Ní Ghrálaigh of Matrix Chambers.

This case has been widely reported including in the Independent and Drill or Drop.

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