The judgement in the first trial of anti-fracking protesters accused of breaching an injunction at a shale gas site is not expected until the end of the week.
The case for contempt of court adjourned this afternoon after hearing two days of evidence and legal arguments in Manchester.
Cuadrilla brought the case following a protest in the entrance of its Preston New Road site, near Blackpool, in July 2018.
Katrina Lawrie (41), Christopher Wilson (55) and Lee Walsh (44), who all lived at a camp near the site, locked themselves in arm tubes at 7am. They were all released by a specialist police team more than six hours later.
Cuadrilla has argued that they breached terms of an injunction granted almost a fortnight earlier, which prohibiting blocking the site entrance and conspiracy to disrupt the company’s operations. The company alleged Mr Walsh also breached the injunction at another protest. Miss Lawrie was accused of three more breaches, including trespass.
If found guilty, they face a maximum sentence of two years in prison.
Mr Justice Pelling QC, who granted the injunction and heard this week’s case, said he would give his ruling no earlier than 10.30am on Friday (28 June 2019).
If the protesters are found in contempt of court there could be another delay before they are sentenced.
Judge Pelling said he would hear an application to vary the terms of the injunction before deciding on penalties.
Before the trial got underway, Friends of the Earth announced it had begun a legal action to “substantially reduce” the scope of Cuadrilla’s injunction.
This follows a successful appeal in May 2019 against a similar injunction granted to Ineos. An initial hearing in the Friends of the Earth case is also due on Friday.
The court heard legal arguments today on key issues in the case.
Adam Wagner, for Miss Lawrie and Mr Walsh, described the Ineos appeal as the “elephant in the room”.
The appeal court ruled that three sections of the Ineos order should be struck out. They covered:
- Persons unknown “combining together” to unlawfully cause loss to Ineos
- Protesting against Ineos suppliers and contractors
- Protesting on the public highway, using tactics such as slow walking
Mr Wagner said of the Ineos case:
“It looms large over these proceedings”.
“The order [in the Ineos case] in almost identical terms was found to be unlawful. The Court of Appeal decision is binding on this court.
“Aspects of the order on which the committal was brought cannot stand.”
Tom Roscoe, for Cuadrilla, said the Court of Appeal had ruled that the Ineos injunction was too wide and uncertain in particular circumstances.
There had not been a history of actions that Ineos sought to outlaw, he said. The Cuadrilla injunction, in contrast, had been made “in response to a very long history of unlawful actions”.
The appeal court also criticised a lack of precision in the Ineos injunction and said some of the language was “insufficiently clear”. Friends of the Earth and barristers for the protesters have argued that the Cuadrilla injunction was also unclear.
Mr Wagner said:
“The law lords in the Ineos appeal case said any injunction must be framed in terms that are specific about what people can and cannot do. The injunction must be defined precisely. There cannot be any room for doubt.
“If the [Cuadrilla] order is found to be uncertain that is the end of this case because it would be unjust to commit anyone on an uncertain order.”
Richard Brigden, for Christopher Wilson, gave as an example the use of the word “site entrance” in the Cuadrilla order. He said this could mean the road up to the site gates, the road up to a blue line painted on the ground (said to mark the edge of the highway), or the highway itself.
“It is capable of varied interpretations”, he said.
On the section of the injunction outlawing trespass on the Cuadrilla site, Mr Brigden said there was ambiguity about what was site land and what was the highway.
Mr Roscoe rejected this argument, saying the injunction applied to titled land. But Mr Brigden said the trial had heard that boundaries on land registry documents could be inaccurate by up to 1 metre. People could have inadvertently breached the trespass part of the injunction, he said.
Key sections of the Cuadrilla injunction, dealing with conspiracy and obstruction, referred to the intention of protesters, the court heard.
People are forbidden by the injunction from blocking the bell mouth of the site entrance “with persons or things when done with a view to slowing down or stopping the traffic”, with the “intention of causing inconvenience or delay”.
The order also prohibits certain protests, such as slow walking, lock-ons or climbing onto vehicles, “done with a view to slow down or stopping vehicular or pedestrian traffic and with the intention of causing inconvenience and delay”.
Yesterday, the protesters said their protest aimed to draw attention to fracking, rather than disrupt Cuadrilla and its contractors.
Mr Wagner said these sections had double requirements about intention.
“There is inherent uncertainty about intention. It has to be difficult to predict for the ordinary person if their behaviour falls within the order of ‘intention of causing inconvenience and delay’.”
“Intention can change every few minutes. It is too uncertain to predict.”
Mr Brigden said the judge was being asked to infer what the protesters intended despite what he said were “deficiencies in the evidence”.
“That places a very high burden on this court. You could not be satisfied that the requirement of intent is proved. It is for the claimant to prove intent and the evidence doesn’t do that.”
Mr Roscoe said: “People know what is their intention”.
Mr Brigden argued that obstruction of the highway could be unlawful only if it were unreasonable. But he said the section of the Cuadrilla injunction dealing with obstructing the highway did not use the word “unreasonable”.
He said Cuadrilla would argue that this section dealt with private nuisance. But he asked:
“How does a lay member of the public look at obstructing the free passage of the highway and know that it relates to private nuisance.”
Mr Roscoe said the injunction order set out what was unlawful. People did not need to make further inquiries, he said.
Mr Brigden said it would be disproportionate to find the protesters in contempt of court if the judge concluded that the order was ambiguous and unlawful.
He said the judge should carry out a review of whether the injunction was proportionate.
Cuadrilla said this was unnecessary because the assessment had been carried out when the order was granted.
Mr Roscoe said:
“I invite your lordship to find that each of the defendants were deliberately breaching the injunction. They showed a reckless disregard for the authority of this court.”
- The case at Manchester Civil Justice Centre adjourned until 10.30am on Friday 28 June 2019.
Updated 29/6/2019: Date on picture caption corrected