The environmental organisation, Friends of the Earth, is seeking permission to oppose an injunction against protests outside oil drilling sites in southern England.
The injunction, brought by UK Oil and Gas Investments plc, is being challenged at the High Court in London by six women from Sussex and Surrey. (DrillOrDrop report)
If approved, the injunction would prohibit a range of protest techniques, some illegal and others not. The women argue it would breach their human rights of freedom of expression, assembly and peaceful protest.
They were joined in court this morning by lawyers for Friends of the Earth, which has applied to intervene in the case.
The injunction is very similar to one granted to the shale gas company, Ineos Upstream, and due to be challenged at the Court of Appeal next year.
The UKOG order seeks to prohibit trespass, damage to property, obstructing the highway and site entrances, slow walking in front of deliver vehicles, lorry surfing, abusive behaviour and taking photographs of contractors. It also seeks to prevent people combining together to damage the company’s economic interests.
It applies to sites at Broadford Bridge in West Sussex and Horse Hill in Surrey, along with UKOG offices in Guildford.
The order is against various categories of “persons unknown” – anyone who took part in prohibited activities. Anyone who breached the order could be in contempt of court and face fines, imprisonment or seizure of assets.
Stephen Simblet, for Friends of the Earth, said the injunction was a real risk to the organisation and its members.
“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.
“Even if they were not in contempt, it ties up resources and time which they say they would like to use to support protests against oil and gas operations.”
Friends of the Earth supported some forms of direct action, including slow walking, Mr Simblet said. The injunction would have a deterrent effect on its activities.
The six women challengers, who include the actor Sue Jameson, supported the Friends of the Earth intervention. Their barrister, Stephanie Harrrison QC, said in court:
“It is critically important to look at the impact of the injunction on campaigning organisations like Friends of the Earth because they are in a different position to the women.”
She said UKOG had sent the draft order to locally-based campaign groups to which the injunction might apply. But she said:
“They are very small and were not able or not willing to put themselves forward to take part in the case.”
Tim Polli QC, for UKOG, said the company was not seeking to prevent peaceful protest, including a regular Cake at the Gate event at the entrance to the Broadford Bridge site. He said:
“The gathering for cake is not unlawful but a failure to move out of the way is.”
Opposing the application by Friends of the Earth, Mr Polli said:
“They are trying to have their cake and eat it. They don’t say what they want to do that would create the dispute, at which point they can become named defendants.
“We say Friends of the Earth may be interested in the outcome of this litigation but they have no interest in the decision to justify them being joined.”
He said the organisation should join the appeal against the Ineos injunction.
Mr Polli added that UKOG was seeking an interim injunction, rather than finalise it at a trial. He said:.
“It is hard to know how you could have a trial against persons unknown.”
He said injunctions were often “stayed and reviewed periodically” and never reached a trial.
“They just return from time to time.”
The hearing was adjourned until 10.30am tomorrow (Tuesday 3 July 2018) when John Male QC, the deputy High Court judge hearing the case, will give his ruling on the Friends of the Earth intervention.
UKOG is expected to begin its case in favour of the injunction. The case is expected to last until Thursday 5 July 2018.
Reporting at this case was made possible by donations from DrillOrDrop readers