Environmental campaigners in court to protect right to free speech threat from oil and gas injunctions

Tuesday 5 March 2019

Stephanie Harrison QC and Stephen Simblet of Garden Court Chambers are representing Joe Corré, one of the named defendants.

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This week Friends of the Earth will make an intervention at the Court of Appeal to support the right to peaceful protest. The green group is supporting the appeals brought by Joe Corré, activist and fashion designer, and Joe Boyd, who are challenging a wide-ranging and draconian attempt from the UK’s biggest oil and gas company Ineos to stop so-called ‘unlawful’ protests at their sites.

The case has far-reaching implications for members of the public to protest oil and gas extraction and the appeal is the latest attempt by campaigners to stop a swathe of injunctions against peaceful protests: there are now court orders granted to 5 fossil fuel companies in force at sites spread across 10 counties.

Controversially, these injunctions apply to ‘persons unknown’ rather than specific, named individuals or groups, and their sanctions apply to activities which have been used for legal protest such as slow walking.

For this reason, Corré and Boyd have put themselves forward as defendants to oppose Ineos’ injunction in the courts. Friends of the Earth is intervening in their appeals to support the democratic right to peaceful protest. Having been granted by the High Court, the Court of Appeal will examine a number of important points of law to establish whether it has been granted lawfully. Friends of the Earth is represented in court by barristers from Garden Court Chambers.

Joe Corré, said:

“I’m quite used to going to court these days. We’re in this kind of war against a fracking industry that knows it’s on its way out but is clinging on as long as it can.

“What the industry has done is put the frighteners on people and curbed their right to peacefully protest.

“Ineos’s wide-ranging injunction has also been adopted by other fracking companies to shut down protest. They’ve all copied the ‘persons unknown’ thing.

“These local communities affected by fracking have spent god knows how many weeks, months, years, writing letters to their MPs, finding out information, talking to each other, fighting off all attempts by fracking companies at every opportunity. For years they have successfully held back fracking operations in this country and kept the gas in the ground”.

Dave Timms, Head of Political Affairs at Friends of the Earth, said:

“Friends of the Earth intervened in this important case because private oil and gas companies want to limit the public’s hard-fought-for right to peaceful protest. We support Joe Corré and Joe Boyd in their legal challenge to stop Ineos stifling free speech among citizens who want to exercise their right to peacefully protest about the impact of fracking on their environment.

“These draconian injunctions create a climate of fear where people taking lawful protest are uncertain about whether their actions could breach an injunction with the risk of imprisonment or having their assets seized. They put decisions about public order policing into the hands of the oil and gas industry with their army of corporate lawyers and private security firms.”

Debaleena Dasgupta, lawyer, Liberty, said:

“The use of injunctions by private companies to criminalise peaceful protest is deeply concerning and a step towards the privatisation of justice.

“The granting of such broad orders to defend business interests undermines some of the most basic principles of a free and fair society and places a huge cost burden on the small number of individuals and organisations willing and able to defend them.

“If our fundamental right to protest is to mean anything, we must be able to peacefully express dissent even – especially – when it is inconvenient to those being protested against, no matter how powerful they are.”

This case has been reported in Drill or Drop.

Stephanie Harrison QC and Stephen Simblet are members of the Garden Court Chambers Public Law Team.

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