Six environmental campaigners and Friends of the Earth have taken legal action in the High Court this week to overturn a broad injunction being sought by UK Oil and Gas. They oppose the energy firm’s attempts to ban protests at a number of sites across the UK.
The campaigners are represented by Stephanie Harrison QC leading Tim Baldwin, and Stephen Simblet leading Owen Greenhall of the Garden Court Civil Liberties team. Garden Court counsel are instructed by Michael Oswald of Bhatt Murphy Solicitors.
The injunction sought is against “persons unknown” and seeks to prohibit entirely lawful acts by campaigners if the predominant intention is to injure the economic interests of UK Oil and Gas (UKOG). 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 injunction would establish protest exclusion zones outside the UK Oil and Gas sites at Broadford Bridge 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.
Stephanie Harrison QC of Garden Court Chambers said:
“This is a really important case which is complex and wide ranging. The injunction has serious and draconian implications for the many individuals and groups who wish to continue to exercise their rights to free speech, assembly and association as part of long standing locally based campaigns against the adverse impacts of oil and gas exploration for the environment, the climate and their local communities.”
Stephen Simblet of Garden Court Chambers is representing Friends of the Earth who have applied to intervene in the case. He said:
“It makes it almost impossible to know what responsibility they may attract for essentially publicising information about a demonstration or encouraging people or their members to attend. Friends of the Earth cannot afford to have its assets sequestrated or the organisation potentially destroyed if it publicises some demonstration which seemed to be innocuous and lawful but turns out in retrospect to encompass activities the claimants [UKOG] says are unlawful.”
The injunction sought by UKOG 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.
Lawyers representing the campaigners argue the injunction sought is incompatible with the rights of free speech and assembly under both the common law and Article 10 and 11 ECHR.