Five women campaigners have welcomed a legal ruling which allows them to continue their long-running opposition to an injunction against protests at oil sites in Sussex and Surrey.
The campaigners, who include the actress Sue Jameson, had asked the High Court to strike out the injunction granted to UK Oil & Gas (UKOG).
But UKOG argued at a hearing last week that the women were not entitled to bring the case and accused them of abuse of legal process.
In a ruling this afternoon, the court official hearing the case, Chief Master Matthew Marsh, said the campaigners could proceed with their application.
He described UKOG’s bid to have them removed from the case as an “unattractive submission” and rejected the idea that the court process had been abused.
“The defendants are parties to the claim and they are entitled to issue the application they have made and ask the court to hear it.
“The court must hear the application by the defendants before making its decision.”
One of the campaigners, Vicki Elcoate, said:
“This is a welcome judgement and a small victory on the road to having our human rights in regards to peaceful protest recognised”.
The campaigners have brought legal challenges to the injunction against protests at Horse Hill and Broadford Bridge for more than two years.
Earlier this year, UKOG sought to extend the injunction to a list of more than 100 new people. This followed judgements at the Court of Appeal that limited the use of “persons unknown” injunctions to prevent protest.
UKOG argued last week that it did not seek to include the campaigners in the injunction. They had no interest in the case and had no right to be heard.
The company’s barrister, Tim Polli QC, said the campaigners could not represent “persons unknown” or the new people that UKOG wanted to be covered by the injunction. The campaigners could also not re-argue points made at previous hearings, he said.
In refusing UKOG’s application to exclude the campaigners, Master Marsh said the women were “concerned residents in the areas affected by the claimant’s [UKOG’s] activities”.
“The claimants and the court accepted that the defendants had sufficient interest to entitle them to play a part in the claim by giving disclosure, witness statements and submissions in the case.”
He said both the court and UKOG had expected the campaigners to be involved in hearings over the whether the injunction should be extended to cover additional people.
On UKOG’s application for them to be excluded, he said:
“This seems to be a reaction to the evidence filed by the defendants.”
This, he said, made it clear that the campaigners would oppose the amendments to the injunction and issue their own application for it to be struck out.
Chief Master Marsh said it didn’t matter that UKOG did not seek to include them in the injunction. The key was whether the campaigners could assist the court. He cited witness statements submitted by the women and their supporters that might be useful to the court.
A witness statement by Ms Elcoate said the campaigners were part of the case to “to give a voice to the ‘Persons Unknown’ as best we can”. She also described what she said was the “chilling effect” of the injunction on peaceful protest.
Another witness statement, by Lorraine Inglis, included an analysis of the new people UKOG wished to add to the injunction.
Stephen Simblet QC, for the campaigners, told today’s hearing that this analysis showed the list contained mistakes. He also referred to a “fake Facebook account” used to give legal notice to people on the list, and others. Almost immediately afterwards it disappeared. See separate DrillOrDrop report.
- A two-day hearing in the summer, before a High Court judge, will decide whether the injunction should be struck out and whether UKOG should be allowed to make changes to the order.