For the first time, an injunction against protests at UK oil and gas sites is to be examined at a full trial at the High Court.
A judge in London this morning ordered that the interim injunction issued to UK Oil & Gas plc in September 2018 should go to trial before it was finalised.
In the past five years, interim injunctions have also been granted to Europa, Cuadrilla, Ineos, IGas and Angus Energy. They have covered actual or proposed exploration sites in Surrey, West Sussex, Nottinghamshire, South Yorkshire, Cheshire and Derbyshire.
In all these cases, the injunctions were decided on legal arguments at court hearings and evidence submitted in writing.
But Chief Master Marsh decided that the UKOG injunction, which deals with protests at Horse Hill in Surrey and Broadford Bridge in West Sussex, should go to trial. For the first time, witnesses will be able to give evidence in person.
The trial, expected to last seven days, is unlikely to be before December 2020.
Six women who live near UKOG sites have challenged the injunction. One of them, Vicki Elcoate, said today:
“We welcome the fact that this case will be going to a full trial where we will get the opportunity to put our evidence of what has happened at protests at oil and gas sites.
“We are very disappointed about the timescale, with a trial not expected until next year. In the meantime, people will continue to be deterred from visiting UKOG sites to exercise their right to protest.”
The UKOG injunction was similar to one granted to Ineos in July 2017.
But earlier this year, campaigner Joe Boyd successfully challenged parts of the Ineos injunction at the Court of Appeal.
Three law lords struck out prohibitions on protesting on the public highway, including slow walking, climbing onto vehicles and blocking the road. They also removed a section on protests against Ineos’s supply chain.
Opponents of the UKOG injunction have argued that it should have been revised following the Court of Appeal ruling. Ms Elcoate said today:
“It is time for UK Oil & Gas to give up on this injunction and bring it into line with the changes made in the Court of Appeal ruling on the Ineos order.
Persons unknown challenge
The UKOG injunction also faces another potential challenge from a more recent case at the High Court, arising from animal rights protests against the high-end London fashion store, Canada Goose.
Like UKOG and other oil and gas companies, Canada Goose sought an injunction against unidentified protesters called “persons unknown”. The companies had argued that it was not possible to identify all the people who might breach an injunction.
But Mr Justice Nicklin refused to confirm the Canada Goose injunction on 20 September 2019.
In his ruling, he said “no defendant has been validly served” because they had not been identified. He said it was “not impossible to name” the people against who the injunction was intended – or include a description of them.
UKOG’s barrister, Tim Polli QC, said today it would be an “enormous task” to identify from photographs the people who should be named on the injunction.
But Stephanie Harrison QC, for the six women campaigners in the UKOG case, said the oil company had already identified people from social media accounts. Like Canada Goose, it had sent the interim injunction to individual protesters and organisations.
She also said the judge in the Canada Goose case had drawn on the Court of Appeal ruling on the Ineos injunction. This required “persons unknown” injunctions to be precise about the terms of any order and restrain only unlawful conduct.
- The Canada Goose case is due to go to the Court of Appeal in February 2020. In the meantime, UKOG is to decide whether it will add parties to the injunction from photos and video of protests at its sites. The company has also been required by the court to decide within a month the scope of the injunction that will go to trial.