The campaign groups, Friends of the Earth and Liberty, has been granted permission to intervene in the case of three anti-fracking protesters who are appealing today against their prison sentences.
Simon Roscoe Blevins, Richard Roberts and Rich Loizou are thought to be the first campaigners to be sent to prison in the UK for taking part in an anti-fracking protest.
They climbed onto lorries outside Cuadrilla’s fracking site near Blackpool in July 2017, blocking a convoy with another campaigner for a total of 99 hours.
Last month, Judge Robert Altham jailed Mr Blevins and Mr Roberts for 16 months and Mr Loizou for 15 months. (DrillOrDrop report) They had previously been convicted at a seven-day trial for public nuisance.
Passing sentence at Preston Crown Court on 26 September, Judge Altham said they were not suitable for suspended sentences because they “provided a risk of re-offending”.
“Each of them remains motivated by unswerving confidence that they are right”.
Friends of the Earth said this morning it would argue that this approach to sentencing was wrong in principle and in law and it led to sentences described as “manifestly excessive”.
The organisation said it believed the sentences could “set a dangerous precedent that punished environmental protesters for their beliefs”.
Represented by Leigh Day and Matrix Chambers, Friends of the Earth will argue in written submissions that the sentences breached Articles 9, 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Its lawyers will say that a coherent conscientious objection to the exploitation of fossil fuels and an ardent belief in the need for urgent action to prevent climate change is protected by Article 9 – the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
The organisation will also argue that peaceful direct action protests fall within the scope of Article 10, the right to freedom of expression and information, and Article 11, the right to freedom of assembly and association.
Friends of the Earth will state that convention on sentencing is that when actions are motivated by genuinely-held, good-faith beliefs, protesters should be subjected to lesser, more lenient sentences, not more punitive sentences.
Katie de Kauwe, lawyer at Friends of the Earth, said:
“We need people in the world who will stand up for what is right. An individual’s moral convictions on climate change or environmental protection shouldn’t be used as a factor to justify harsh sentencing. We believe that the fracking protesters’ passion for the environment was unlawfully used against them, resulting in incorrect and draconian sentences.”
Rosa Curling, solicitor at Leigh Day added:
“Our clients strongly believe that the sentences handed down in this case were excessive and inappropriate and set a chilling precedent for other peaceful protesters who engage in protest based on their sincerely held beliefs.”
Liberty argues the disproportionate length of the sentences breaches the activists’ fundamental human rights and will have a chilling effect on peaceful protest.
Emma Norton, Head of Legal Casework at Liberty, said:
“The right to protest is fundamental to democracy, and civil disobedience plays a critical role in voicing the conscience of a community when the law falls short of justice.
“When people break the law, they rightly expect to face fair consequences, but the disproportionate punishment of peaceful protesters betrays our values as an open society where we can stand up to power, and risks deterring people from exercising their right to dissent.”
The case is due to open at the Court of Appeal at the Royal Courts of Justice at 10.30am today. It is scheduled to be heard by the Lord Chief Justice Sir Ian Burnett, sitting with Mr Justice Phillips and Mrs Justice Cutts.
The three men sent to prison are represented by the human rights lawyer, Kirsty Brimelow QC, who is working pro-bono.
Their prison terms have been widely criticised. More than 1,000 academics signed an open letter calling for a review of the sentences. A 38 degrees petition has been signed by more than 28,500 people calling for protection for the right to protest. More than 500 people marched through Preston calling for the men’s release on the first Saturday after their sentence (DrillOrDrop report)
There has also been shock at the support given by Judge Altham’s sister for Cuadrilla’s shale gas plans in Lancashire and shale gas in general. Blackpool MP, Gordon Marsden, has asked the justice secretary to investigate whether the judicial code of conduct was breached (DrillOrDrop report)