High Court legal challenge secures delay to wide-ranging injunction against environmental protestors

Wednesday 21 March 2018

Environmental campaigners have persuaded a Court that it should not grant a draconian interim injunction seeking to ban protests against UK Oil and Gas PLC (UKOG) at a hearing before the Chief Master of the Chancery Division on 19 March 2018.

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The campaigners are represented by Stephanie Harrison QC leading Timothy Baldwin and Stephen Simblet leading Anna Morris of the Garden Court Chambers Civil Liberties Team, instructed by Michael Oswald of Bhatt Murphy solicitors.

It was accepted that the campaigners are entitled to a full and fair opportunity to oppose UKOGs’ application. The Court has listed the campaigners application for a protected costs or cost capping order, and given time to prepare a defence and obtain evidence.

The issues raised by the campaigners made it “wholly unrealistic” for UKOG to pursue their interim injunction on 19 March 2018, the court ruled. The Court commented on the fact that the Claimants’ had many months to prepare their case, but were opposing any opportunity for the campaigners to prepare their case at all.

UKOG argued their application for an injunction was a “standard INEOS application” referring to a previous wide-ranging and controversial injunction granted against those opposing fracking in a number of sites in Yorkshire and elsewhere at the end of last year.

However, the court ruled the case could not go ahead, recognising that the order sought was very wide-ranging and exceptional.

The draft orders are brought against “persons unknown” and seek to prohibit entirely lawful acts by campaigners if the predominant intention was to injure UKOG’s economic interests. This would prohibit and potentially criminalise  any campaign that would have adverse effects on a business, such as any contemporary environmental campaign that seeks, for example, to deter people from using plastic and switching to recyclable products or renewable energy.

If approved, the orders in the UKOG case would establish protest exclusion zones outside the UK Oil and Gas sites at Broadford Bridge and Markwells Wood in West Sussex and Horse Hill in Surrey and limit the regular action taken by local groups, such as ”cake at the gate” gatherings, to raise awareness of the dangers to the environment of UKOG’s commercial activities.

The injunction application has been widely condemned by campaigners and local communities affected. They fear powerful corporate firms are increasingly attempting to restrict freedom of speech and assembly. Furthermore, they fear these firms are seeking to bypass the local police, to prevent many forms of lawful protest and deter individuals and groups from participating in local campaigns with the threat of injunction, imprisonment for breach, and liability for excessive corporate costs of the litigation and damages.

The challenge against the injunction was argued on the following grounds:

  • The without notice application and proceedings against persons unknown should not be permitted and are an abuse of process;
  • The Claimants cannot establish a proper legal and evidential basis for the injunction at all, or in its wide and draconian terms;
  • The injunction sought is incompatible with the rights of free speech and assembly under both the common law and Article 10 and 11 ECHR;
  • In exercising its discretion, no injunction should be granted by the Court in light of the conduct of the Claimants, for example, in not informing the Court that it was in breach of its planning permission at the Markwells Wood site and in circumstances where the local authority have now issued enforcement proceedings.

The case has been adjourned until May 2018 when it will be heard by a High Court judge.

This case has been reported in Drill or Drop, the Guardian and the BBC.

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