Some of the most extensive restrictions on anti-fracking protests are to be challenged at the Court of Appeal tomorrow morning (5 March 2019).
Three senior judges will begin considering cases brought by two campaigners against injunctions granted to Ineos Upstream, the country’s biggest shale gas licence holder.
The hearing is being seen as a test case over restrictions on protests.
It is the latest stage in an 18-month legal battle by Joe Corre, fashion designer and founder of Talk Fracking, and the campaigner, Joe Boyd.
“Unprecedented and draconian”
The campaigners have described the injunctions as “unprecedented” and “draconian”. They said the orders were already having a “chilling effect” on free speech in the debate about fracking.
The injunctions, first granted at a private hearing in July 2017, apply to eight Ineos locations. They comprise the prospective shale gas sites at Harthill, and Woodsetts, in South Yorkshire and Marsh Lane, Derbyshire; the production sites at Doe Green, Cheshire and Ebberston South, North Yorkshire; and headquarters in central London and Hampshire.
Ineos argued that the injunctions were necessary to protect the locations against what it said was a “real threat of interference from protests”. Its operations director, Tom Pickering, told DrillOrDrop at the time:
“It doesn’t affect the peaceful right to protest”.
The order awarded to Ineos became a template in cases sought by other shale gas and onshore exploration companies.
Locations in ten counties operated by five companies are now covered by injunctions against protests. They also include:
- IGas at Misson Springs and Tinker Lane, in Nottinghamshire, and Ellesmere Port in Cheshire;
- Cuadrilla at Preston New Road in Lancashire;
- Angus Energy at Balcombe in West Sussex and Brockham in Surrey;
- UK Oil and Gas plc at Broadford Bridge, West Sussex, Horse Hill in Surrey, and offices in Guildford
Two of the sites covered by the injunctions do not have planning permission.
The Ineos injunctions prohibited people from interfering with the lawful activities of Ineos staff and contractors.
They outlawed trespass and what was described as unlawful and unreasonable obstruction of the highway. This included slow walking, climbing on vehicles and lock-on protests.
The injunctions were brought against “persons unknown” – anyone who defied the terms of the court order. People who breached the order risked prison, fines or seizure of their assets.
Joe Corre (left) and Joe Boyd first went to court in September 2017 to challenge the injunctions granted at a private hearing five weeks earlier.
Mr Justice Morgan dismissed their case at the commercial section of the High Court in November 2017. He also later refused their application to appeal.
But in May 2018, Lady Justice Asplin, allowed them to pursue their cases at the Court of Appeal.
Mr Boyd was successful on three of his six grounds for appeal:
- Human Rights Act aspects of the case
- Injunction on protests against the supply chain
- Use of the injunction against “persons unknown”
Lady Justice Asplin said: “there is a real prospect of success” on the three grounds.
On the Human Rights Act, she said:
“It is arguable that the [High Court] judge did not apply the correct test” or “conduct a proper analysis of the evidence”.
On the supply chain injunction, she said there was a “compelling reason why it should be heard on appeal”. She said it was “arguable that the judge erred in extending the scope of unlawful means conspiracy in the way he did”.
Mr Corre was allowed to appeal on one of the grounds. Lady Justice Asplin said:
” It is arguable that the course was wrong in the light of reliance upon conduct of specific individuals and without consideration of the factors relevant to such an exceptional course.”
Mr Boyd, who is raising money for his case through the Crowdjustice website, said :
“This case is incredibly important. Fracking remains strongly opposed by local communities up and down the country and they should be able to resist this unpopular industry without fear of a fine or imprisonment”
He is represented by the law firm, Leigh Day. Solicitor Anna Dew said:
“Free speech and a right to peacefully protest is the core of any effective democracy.
“This injunction has become a test case, used at the moment by other fracking companies, but which has wide-ranging implications that reach far beyond any debate around the environmental damage of fracking.
“We will be arguing on behalf of our client that it represents an attack on the right to protest without facing the fear of arrest and imprisonment”.
Joe Corre, represented by Garden Court Chambers, said:
“These injunctions started by Ineos are a full-frontal assault on our civil liberties. By gaming the British legal system and using secret courts, these companies are buying the law.”
“I am hopeful that the Court of Appeal will reverse this situation which has allowed Ineos to buy the law and trample on our human rights to protest.
“The interim injunction was first granted at a secret court hearing. Ineos convinced the judge secrecy was necessary by painting local communities with legitimate concerns as ‘dangerous fanatics’ and ‘militant activists’.”
On the “persons unknown” case, Mr Corre said:
“If that holds, it means that any company that wants to do anything that might be a bit unpopular and that attracts any kind of protest against it can issue this type of injunction and it will effectively quash protest in this country.”
Friends of the Earth announced on the morning of the hearing that it was intervening in the appeal. Dave Timms, head of political affairs at the campaign organisation, said:
“Friends of the Earth intervened in this important case because private oil and gas companies want to limit the public’s hard-fought-for right to peaceful protest. We support Joe Corré and Joe Boyd in their legal challenge to stop Ineos stifling free speech among citizens who want to exercise their right to peacefully protest about the impact of fracking on their environment.
“These draconian injunctions create a climate of fear where people taking lawful protest are uncertain about whether their actions could breach an injunction with the risk of imprisonment or having their assets seized. They put decisions about public order policing into the hands of the oil and gas industry with their army of corporate lawyers and private security firms.”
- DrillOrDrop will be reporting from the case. It will be heard by Lord Justice Longmore, Lord Justice David Richards and Lord Justice Leggatt. It is listed for Court 67 at the Royal Courts of Justice, The Strand, London WC2, starting at 10.30am.
Ineos injunction timeline
31 July 2017
Mr Justice Morgan grants an interim injunction at a private hearing at the High Court to Ineos companies and landowners. Details
6 September 2017
Anti-fracking campaigner, Joe Corre, announces he is to go to court to challenge the Ineos injunction. s announce they will challenge the injunctions. Details
11 September 2017
Joe Boyd announces he is to challenge the Ineos injunction. Details
12 September 2017
Joe Corre and Joe Boyd begin challenge at High Court – interim injunction renewed for two months or until future court date. Details
31 October 2017
Opening day of High Court challenge to Ineos injunctions hears that the company has compiled a dossier of social media posts to support its case. Details
1 November 2017
High Court challenge to Ineos injunctions hears they have had a “chilling effect” on the fracking debate. Details
2 November 2017
Mr Justice Morgan reserves judgement in challenge against Ineos injunctions. Details
23 November 2017
26 November 2017
Campaigners say they will fight on against the injunctions. Details
12 December 2017
Final order published by High Court. Link
21 December 2017
Mr Justice Morgan refuses permission to Joe Corre and Joe Boyd to appeal against his ruling. The campaigners say they will seek permission directly from the Court of Appeal. Details
24 May 2018
Lady Justice Asplin grants permission to Joe Boyd and Joe Corre to appeal against the ruling of Mr Justice Morgan. Details