By Ruth Hayhurst, DrillorDrop
A judge has ruled that an injunction obtained against anti-fracking protesters by INEOS Shale should continue
Earlier this month, INEOS – the UK’s largest holder of shale gas exploration licences – asked the High Court to extend the order.
Two environmental campaigners who opposed the order argued it was “unprecedented” and “draconian” and should be dismissed.
On 23 November, Mr Justice Morgan ruled that the interim injunction should remain in place. The campaigners can appeal. A future trial would be needed to make the order permanent.
Mr Justice Morgan said he wanted to change some of the wording to the order to clarify what it covered. He also removed a clause in the original order preventing harassment of INEOS staff and contractors. (You can read more about what the Judge said here.)
The case has been seen as a test of rights to protest and is regarded as important because it may encourage other companies to take similar action against opponents of their activities.
INEOS sought the original injunction in July after saying it faced “a real and imminent risks of being targeted by unlawful protests”.
The company, which has yet to be granted planning permission for shale gas exploration, said the injunction aimed to prevent unlawful activity, not curtail lawful protest.
The order is directed against “persons unknown” and prohibited them from interfering with the lawful activities of INEOS staff and contractors. People who breached the order risk prison or having their assets seized.
It specifically named two protest techniques used by anti-fracking campaigners: slow walking in front of deliveries and climbing on top of vehicles, known as lorry surfing.
The slow walking clause was a key issue during previous hearings. Some police forces regularly facilitate slow walking protests at fracking sites. Campaigners have been acquitted of allegedly obstructing the highway during these protests. Slow walking, “lorry surfing” and unlawful obstruction of the highway without unreasonable excuse remain in the order.
Campaigners Joe Corre, son of fashion designer Vivienne Westwood, and Joe Boyd, argued that order breached human rights to freedom of expression and assembly.
They said it was unnecessary and based on flimsy evidence that over-stated or misrepresented the risk.
The order threatened law-abiding people and was already having an “impermissible chilling effect” on the rights to protest, they said.
Challenger, Joe Corre:
“INEOS wanted to criminalise legitimate protest including imprisonment and unlimited financial penalties for anyone who made negative comments about them or their supply chain on social media or any other form of communication. That has completely gone, and rightly so.
“However, this company, INEOS, which means against them in Latin, is still trying to buy the law and take away your right to protest,”
He said: “The first time, INEOS lost about 10% of what they asked for in their initial 2,000-page injunction. This time around, a much larger chunk has been chopped away.
“In this latest judgement, INEOS have lost any mention of harassment. The judge has removed it from the injunction completely. Because telling someone who is trying to destroy your environment that you don’t like it is not harassment,”
Tom Pickering, Operations Director of INEOS Shale:
“Our people have the right to go to work free from fear of violence and unlawful interference. These injunctions simply protect INEOS and our people from hardcore activists who game the system and treat the law with contempt. Crucially they also protect the rights of people to lawfully, peacefully protest.”
Mr Pickering said INEOS staff had faced threats by email and social media, including:
“I will go and blow them up – just you watch”. “Kick the hell out of the driver and force chemicals down his throat.” “This is war so expect casualties.” “Kill their children”. “Can’t somebody kill the owner of INEOS?” He said:
“These threats are vile, abusive and frightening. They demonstrate the sort of people we are facing.”
Joe Boyd, challenger:
“What INEOS has obtained from the Court today is profoundly troubling, it allows for an unprecedented restriction on our fundamental rights. The removal of the harassment aspect of the injunction is an important victory for us. But the rest of the injunction cannot be left unchallenged and we will be filing an application for permission to appeal.”
Rosa Curling, of Leigh Day, which represented Joe Boyd:
“Free speech is at the heart of any democracy. This case is about the right to protest, a right which has always been, and must continue to be, a fundamental aspect of peaceful political action in our society. Without the right to protest effectively, the ability of citizens to peacefully challenge injustices will be severely curtailed.”
Jonathan Bartley, co-leader of the Green Party:
“This ruling places the right to protest under threat. Ineos have won a technical battle but they are on the wrong side of history and will not win the war. I have visited fracking sites across the country. I have seen the commitment, the energy, and the passion of those who know that fracking is bad for their communities and their country. Their opposition to fracking will never be silenced and the campaign for a future that’s clean and green will win out in the end.”
Wenonah Hauter, Food & Water Watch and Food & Water Europe:
“This decision undermines our basic democratic rights to protest and defend our communities.
“Ineos is facing sustained protests for a reason. The company has amasssed an atrocious environmental record across Europe, from chemical leaks and substantial pollutant releases to fires and explosions. If this company is being allowed to frack the UK, more pollution and more accidents are likely to follow.”
“The public knows the dangers fracking poses to our clean air and water, and that’s why activists in England are taking bold action to protect their communities against these threats. Ineos would like to stifle this movement, and unfortunately this High Court injunction has given the company a potentially powerful tool to threaten those advocating for a healthy climate and a livable world. If Ineos thinks a court injunction will stop the movement to protect our water, climate and communities from fracking, they are in for a surprise.“
Kevin Blowe, of the policing monitoring organisation, Netpol:
“INEOS now has to implement the injunction. Potentially hundreds of people could be acting against the terms of the order. They have to make a decision on who they bring contempt proceedings against.
“The company said it was advised by the police to use civil injunctions. Does this mean the police will co-operate with INEOS on bring actions?
“The other concern is whether this injunction has encouraged other companies to use injunctions against protesters.”
The article has been cross-posted from DrillorDrop.