Injunctions mean that people who trespass on a UK fracking site face a bigger maximum penalty than if they committed the same offence at Buckingham Palace, the High Court was told today.
Anti-fracking campaigner, Ian Crane, argued that injunctions at current and prospective fracking sites were creating a “parallel legal system”, available only to wealthy shale gas companies.
The injunctions gave greater protection to the fracking sites, with more severe penalties, than was available under the criminal law, he said.
Mr Crane is challenging an injunction granted to IGas, which prohibited trespass at three sites in Nottinghamshire and Cheshire.
The injunction also outlawed protests that would interfere with IGas’s access to the sites along private and public roads. DrillOrDrop report of the case for the injunction
Barrister Paul Powlesland, for Mr Crane, told a hearing in London that people found guilty of trespass at strategic buildings such as Buckingham Palace or the Houses of Parliament could be jailed under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act for up to six months.
But he said trespassing at a fracking site covered by an injunction could lead to contempt of court proceedings, where the maximum jail sentence could be two years. People found guilty of contempt of court could also face seizure of assets and court costs running into tens of thousands of pounds.
“Remedy for the few and not the many”
Mr Powlesland said of the injunction system:
“It is remedy for the few and not the many.”
He said IGas had refused to disclose how much seeking the injunction had cost but he estimated it was £50,000-£100,000.
“Everyone has a right to protection under the criminal law and while there are many factors that the Crown will weigh up, the financial means of the aggrieved is not one of them.
“The claimant’s [IGas] protection using injunctions is not available to everyone. And it is not available to the majority of people.
“There is an issue when companies are able to seek something better than the criminal law.
“This risks creating a quasi-criminal system parallel to the criminal law and crucially it has not been fully authorised by parliament.
“It is starting to create quite unfair consequences. Ordinary people, who have respect for the rule of law and see their local area threatened, could find themselves subject to a system which they cannot use themselves and they see the unfairness in that.”
“No imminent threat”
Yesterday, IGas’s barrister, Alan Maclean QC, argued that IGas faced a real and imminent threat of protests that would disrupt its operations at the three sites.
Today, Mr Powlesland dismissed the evidence of any threat at the Ellesmere Port site in Cheshire. The company did not have planning permission to carry out work and there had not been any protest activity for several years, he said.
He described a photo call outside the site by opponents of IGas’s operations at Ellesmere Port.
“There is a real chance that this would be banned or that people would think it was banned and the injunction would have a chilling effect.”
Mr Powlesland added:
“The fracking industry has relied on a generalised bogeyman of anti-fracking protests which have happened elsewhere.
“If the evidence used by IGas to justify an injunction at Ellesmere Port is allowed, we face the situation where any operator with a site where fracking is envisaged would effectively be able to get an injunction even if it did not have planning permission.”
Mr Powlesland described the wording of the injunction as woolly and unclear. This would deter people from protesting, he said.
The injunction included exclusion zones along delivery routes to the Nottinghamshire sites at Misson Springs and Tinker Lane.
The current wording did not exempt roadside verges from the exclusion zones so someone standing on the verge could be in breach of the injunction, Mr Powlesland said.
Yesterday, Mr Maclean said people could protest on one side of the gates, outside the exclusion zone, without fear of being in breach. But Mr Powlesland said:
“It is not for the fracking companies to dictate to those who oppose them how they should protest. Freedom to protest when you are told where to protest is not freedom at all.”
He said people riding a bicycle or using a mobility scooter could also be in breach if they held up lorries in the exclusion zones.
The injunction specifically outlawed the protest technique of lorry surfing, where activists climb onto the roof of a vehicle. Mr Powlesland said the current injunction order meant that someone who climbed onto their own vehicle in the exclusion zone could also be in breach of the injunction.
“This injunction should be defined incredibly carefully. If the claimants cannot do that or there is uncertainty, the injunctions should not be made.”
He also called for the removal of guidance which suggested that anyone who encouraged others to breach the injunction would also be at risk.
Injunction served by Facebook message
Two women from Surrey are challenging another injunction granted to Angus Energy for its oil exploration sites at Balcombe and Brockham in the Weald.
Vicki Elcoate told the court that agents for Angus Energy had attempted to serve its injunction using Facebook Messenger.
She sent the messages were sent, sometimes from a false identity, to a “random group” of individuals and organisations named on the injunction. It appeared that the list had been copied from a previous injunction sought by a different company for a different site several years earlier.
A witness statement accompanying the Angus injunction said the people on the list were known to the company “due to their extensive involvement with protests/unlawful activities at other oil and gas sites”.
Miss Elcoate said the claim was unfounded and Angus had produced no evidence to support it.
The people on the list included a curate from Caterham, a Dorking artist and a natural health consultant, she said. Some of the people on the list had never been to Balcombe or Brockham and had no connection with protesting.
Miss Elcoate described this method of service as “inappropriate, contradictory and threatening.” It had caused distress and anxiety and had tarnished reputations, she said. There had been lasting effects on some of the groups named.
“We seek a statement from the claimants [Angus] retracting the claim.
“No further use of the list should be made in this injunction or any other.”
Miss Elcoate said the list of names had been used by Angus to argue that there was an imminent threat to its sites and that an injunction was needed. She said:
“There is no relevant evidence or proof of an imminent threat”.
The company had cited examples from around the country and from long ago, none with immediate relevance to what is going on at either site, she added.
The other challenger, Pat Smith, told the court that protests at the Brockham site in January 2017 were prompted by local concerns that Angus was operating outside its planning permission.
She said Surrey County Council had told the company in September 2016 that it did not have consent for further drilling, but in January 2017 it drilled an unauthorised side-track.
This was revealed by protesters who had been monitoring the site, she said.
“An injunction will stop this happening in future because people are worried.”
There had already been a chilling effect on protests, she said.
Reporting at this hearing was made possible through donations from individual DrillOrDrop readers