A High Court judge hearing the challenge to INEOS’s injunction against anti-fracking protests has reserved his judgement.
Mr Justice Morgan said this evening:
“I’m not going to give a decision. I think the amount of material I have to digest and weigh up and consider means it is not fair to give a decision tonight. I will try to give a decision as soon as possible.”
He gave no indication of timing but said the interim injunction would remain in place until the decision.
The three-day hearing has heard argument from INEOS and lawyers for two challengers: campaigners Joe Boyd and Joe Corre, son of fashion designer, Vivienne Westwood.
The evidence and statements filled 32 ring binders and the legal teams topped 25.
“Pizza delivery boys risk prison”
After the hearing, Mr Boyd said:
“We have put up a great fight with great arguments. INEOS have avoided the main points that we have made. Hopefully the judge will give us a favourable decision.”
Mr Corre said:
“Pizza delivery boys or dog walkers continue to run the risk of getting prison sentences for inadvertently entering INEOS’s property.
“People objecting to INEOS’s bully boy behavior continue to run the risk of having their assets seized for criticising the multinational petrochemicals monster on social media”.
Tom Pickering, Operations Director of INEOS Shale said,
“Our people have the right to go to work free from threats of intimidation, injury or harm. These injunctions simply protect INEOS, our people and the public from hardcore activists. They do not restrict the rights of people to lawfully, peacefully protest.”
But Mr Corre responded:
“Article 10 and 11 of the Human Rights Act allows for slow walking if it’s to protest, where otherwise it would be unlawful”.
“Mr. Pickering wants to injunct slow walking in the form of a protest, so it immediately becomes an imprisonable offence and doesn’t get in the way of delivery trucks”.
“Mr. Pickering’s so-called ‘hardcore activists’ are everyday people including teachers, lawyers, clergyman, ex police and armed services all being terrorised by INEOS”.
Kevin Blowe, of the police monitoring group, Netpol, said:
“INEOS has repeatedly argued that protests are only ever lawful if there is no disruption, but it is recognised internationally that the exercise of the right to freely assemble is often disruptive and will invariably cause some inconvenience to others.
“There was an unreal insistence too that protesters will always know, despite the broad nature of the interim injunction, exactly when their actions are “lawful”, as if they might always have a team of lawyers conveniently on hand to advise them.
“In reality, we have already heard from people on the ground who are unwilling, because of the injunction, to speak publicly or who fear they will face targeting if they put themselves forward as campaigners.
“The chilling effect the injunction will have on participation in protests is central to this case – intimidating people to become too fearful to exercise their rights has as much of an negative impact on freedom of assembly as oppressive policing”.
INEOS sought an injunction against activities that would interfere with its operations and those of its staff, contractors and suppliers.
The order covers issues such as trespass, harassment and obstructing the highway. It specifically outlaws the tactic of slow walking, where campaigners attempt to slow down deliveries by walking in front of lorries. There were no named defendants to the injunction and it applies world-wide.
Breaching the injunction could make someone in contempt of court and at risk of prison or seizure of their assets.
The company argued that the order went no further than the criminal law in preventing any actions.
But the challengers called for the injunction order to be quashed.
They argued that it breached human rights and was so loosely written as to be unworkable.
They alleged that INEOS had exaggerated the threat it faced from anti-fracking protesters. And they said the company had not brought the injunction under proper procedures.
“No immediate threat, no immediate plans”
Stephanie Harrison QC, for Mr Corre, said earlier today:
“The claimants did not make properly clear to the court that they face no current or imminent threat.
“Their proposed operations are many months, if not years, into the future”
“The claimants told the court that they were at risk of “militant protester activity” and that there had been recent escalation of unlawful activity such that the injunction was urgent.”
But, she said, the alleged escalation of activity referred to places that were not owned or operated by INEOS.
“They faced no immediate threats as there were no immediate plans.”
Ms Harrison said the company had misrepresented or omitted “significant factual matters” and had wrongly told the court there were no human rights issues involved in the case.
“Intimidating local residents”
“The order threatens decent law-abiding people with imprisonment for engaging in conduct that is not in breach of the criminal law and should be encouraged rather than prevented.
“It is also intimidatory of those law-abiding people who wish to be able not just to demonstrate but local residents who wish to be able to use footpaths and other amenities near their homes.”
Sharron Boswell made a statement that the injunction notices were intimidating and upsetting. They had made her unwilling to take her dog for a walk, which she had done for years.
Adrian Knight said his partner’s autistic daughter was no longer able to take their dog out in case she inadvertently breached the injunction.
Impact on police
A statement to the court from INEOS’s security company said:
“the strongest advice coming from the police to prevent unlawful activity was the use of injunctions through the Civil Courts, and that it was the view of the police that the industry collectively has enough evidence to obtain such relief”
But Richard Scholey, a recently retired public order inspector who lives in the South Yorkshire village of Woodsetts, said the injunction could create, rather than solve, problems for the police.
In a statement for Mr Corre, he said the police balanced competing interest at protests.
“It is very unhelpful for a private company to ask the court to tell us how to do that job.
“We have the direct experience, we know the local community, we can distinguish on the ground between who is acting lawfully and who is not and make informed judgements about how best to manage the protest.”
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