The use of trades union legislation to prosecute a group of anti-fracking campaigners is under review tonight.
District Judge William Ashwort, is considering whether there is a case to answer against five people who took part in the Balcombe protests and were charged under Section 241 of the Trades Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992.
The campaigners, Nichola Sanger, Natalie Hynde, Simon Medhurst, Robert Basto and Jamie Spiers, are accused of besetting the staff, contractors and suppliers of Cuadrilla, the company exploring for oil at Balcombe. For dates of the case see http://wp.me/p3OyVh-hj
Judge Ashworth, sitting at Brighton Magistrates Court, said he was concerned about the word “besetting” and he did not want to make a decision “on the hop”. He adjourned the case until tomorrow morning.
The decision came on the second day of the trial, at the end of the prosecution case. Stephen Knight, for Mr Spiers, said there was no case to answer that his client’s action amounted to besetting.
There is no legal definition of besetting and no legal authority on how it should be interpreted. Mr Knight said the dictionary definition was “to trouble someone or something persistently.” But Jonathan Edwards, prosecuting, said it was flexible term and the definition should be determined on a case by case basis.
Section 241 of the Act was intended to be used against secondary picketing in industrial disputes. Sussex Police charged a total of 30 people with Section 241 offences arising from the Balcombe protests. All but these five were dropped before they came to court.
In December 2001, Sussex Police used the same law to charge five people who took part in a protest at Shoreham docks. All denied the case and the Crown Prosecution Service dropped the charges just before they came to trial. Section 241 carries a maximum sentence of six months in jail.