Lawyers for UK Oil & Gas said five women campaigners should be barred from trying to quash an injunction against protests at its sites in Surrey and Sussex.
The campaigners had said the company’s injunction, covering specific protests at Horse Hill and Broadford Bridge, no longer complied with the law. They asked the High Court to strike it out.
But UKOG told a court hearing, conducted by Skype today, that the women were not entitled to bring the case and accused them of abuse of the legal process.
The argument had been expected to take 30 minutes but lasted all day. A decision is expected next week.
“Change in law on injunctions”
Stephanie Harrison QC, for the campaigners, argued that the court should hear the women, as long-standing opponents of the onshore oil and gas industry in southern England.
They had a right to argue that the injunction should be quashed, she said. Court judgements had changed the law on injunctions since the UKOG order was granted in 2018.
Earlier this month, an appeal court ruling in a case brought by the fashion retailer, Canada Goose, said companies should seek to identify specific people – at least by description – against whom they sought a protest injunction. They should not rely solely, as UKOG and other oil and gas companies had done, on injunctions against “persons unknown”.
UKOG has responded by seeking to add 116 people to its injunction, either named or identified from images. But Ms Harrison said:
“The existing [UKOG] claim, as originally and currently constituted, against ‘persons unknown’ was always unlawful, unjustifiable, procedurally unfair, and an abuse of process.”
“The only lawful, fair and appropriate course is for the court to bring an end to the proceedings as currently constituted.”
The campaigners have criticised the way UKOG identified and notified the additional people. Ms Harrison said the company should be required to bring what she described as “properly constituted new proceedings”:
“The court can, and should, in the interests of justice, give us the opportunity to say why the order is legally flawed and incompatible with human rights.”
If the women were unable to take part in the case it would, she said,
“result in no represented parties at all to make any submissions and to give evidence to the court to challenge the Claimant’s [UKOG’s] description of the facts and the law”.
Ms Harrison added that the Court of Appeal in the Canada Goose case had stressed that civil injunctions were a “blunt instrument” for balancing the rights of companies and individuals who wanted to protest.
She said the UKOG injunction would continue indefinitely until a trial to decide whether it should be made final.
“No right to be heard”
Timothy Polli QC, for UKOG, said of the five campaigners:
“They have no remaining legal interest in this litigation and they have no right to be heard.”
They also had no right to represent “persons unknown” or the additional 116 people added to the injunction, he said. Nor did they have the right to challenge the injunction.
He said UKOG had never sought to pursue a claim against the campaigners:
“They joined themselves to the proceedings. Although they did so ostensibly in order to protect their rights to protest lawfully, in fact they sought to oppose the making of any injunction.”
He told the court that the campaigners had originally been concerned that any protest activity could be covered by a clause in the injunction preventing people from conspiring together to damage the company. UKOG had accepted this gave them an interest in the case, he said, but this clause was now being removed from the injunction.
“There is nothing left for them to defend.”
Mr Polli said the injunction was time-limited because a trial was due to take place in December 2020 or January 2021.
He said the addition of the 116 identified individuals also meant the women were no longer required as defendants.
“The proceedings no longer need them to speak for the described persons unknown.”
He also accused the campaigners of “re-treading old arguments” about the UKOG injunction.
“It is an abuse of process to reopen the substance of the injunction. There have been no developments in the context of the body of the order.”
The campaigners had been due to appeal against the UKOG injunction in 2019 but they withdrew their case before it began.
Ms Harrison said the arguments that would have been made had already been won in a separate successful appeal against the Ineos injunction a few months earlier. But Mr Polli said the campaigners should have pursued the appeal and he accused them of not wanting to risk the Ineos ruling being “watered down”.
“Legal representation needed”
Lorraine Inglis, speaking for Weald Action Group, which is supporting the five women, said this evening:
“We didn’t even get off the starting blocks. Using Skype was difficult and it didn’t seem to allow for people with limited access to technology to get a fair hearing.
“Without legal representatives being able to present all the arguments to the court, including human rights, it will be difficult for anyone to come forward and oppose this injunction.
“It bans forms of protest that are lawful and lists people who pose no threat to UKOG’s activities. Recent court judgements have changed the law on injunctions and we have every right to continue defending the public interest in our right to protest.”
- Chief Master Marsh, the court official hearing today’s case, said he would deliver his ruling on the campaigners’ role in the case at 2pm on either Wednesday 8 April or Thursday 9 April 2020.