Opponents of a High Court injunction against protests at oil sites in southern England are celebrating news that it is being scaled back.
Five women from Sussex and Surrey, including the actor Sue Jameson, had expected to continue a legal challenge next week to the interim injunction awarded to UK Oil & Gas (UKOG).
But yesterday (4 February 2021), UKOG announced that it was removing the injunction’s ban on slow walking, a much-used protest tactic against onshore oil and gas companies. It also said the remaining terms of the injunction, on obstructing the site entrance and trespass, would now apply only to its site at Horse Hill in Surrey.
Campaigners against the injunction described the news as a “massive victory”. UKOG said the revised order would help protect the company and would not “prevent or limit peaceful protest”.
“Most expansive injunction so far”
The injunction, first issued in March 2018, attracted opposition from campaigners against onshore drilling. They described it as the most expansive so far sought by the industry and based on “exaggerated and oppressive claims”.
The original application, which contained more than 900 pages of exhibits and 500 videos, was against “persons unknown” and applied to two sites in West Sussex (Markwells Wood and Broadford Bridge) and UKOG’s Guildford headquarters, as well as Horse Hill.
In March 2020, UKOG sought to add more than 100 individuals to the injunction but failed to identify most of them by name. It was argued that few, if any, had been involved in unlawful activities. In April 2020, the company tried unsuccessfully to bar the five women from bringing their legal challenge.
The High Court has twice scaled back the scope of the injunction (details here). Two other legal challenges have successfully removed injunctions against persons unknown and slow walking protests. A five-day trial is still expected in February 2022 to decide whether UKOG’s interim injunction should be made final.
Lorraine Inglis, of the campaign network, the Weald Action Group, said today:
“This is a massive victory.
“We’ve been fighting for three years to cut down this draconian injunction – at every court hearing we’ve made progress. Now all that’s left is a set of narrow restrictions relating to trespass and access to Horse Hill in line with a standard injunction.
“It’s an excellent result. UKOG are trying to save face by pretending this has something to do with the COVID pandemic. It hasn’t – it’s all to do with their unacceptable injunction.”
Ann Stewart, one of the five legal challengers to the injunction and a member of the campaign group, Markwells Wood Watch, said:
“The injunction started off covering four sites, including Markwells Wood which had no planning permission for oil drilling. And we’ve now managed to get rid of Broadford Bridge, where nothing is going on.
“This has been an abuse of the injunction process which should only be used to prevent real and immediate threats of unlawful action. UKOG have basically had an injunction over an empty field for two and a half years.”
Another challenger, Natasha Doane, of the Leith Hill campaign in Surrey, said:
“Wide-reaching injunctions aimed at persons unknown have had their day.
“Companies cannot buy their way through the courts. The freedom to express your views is a right that shapes democracy and enables current pressing issues to be addressed. The implications of fossil fuel extraction are too severe to be silenced as we search for solutions to the climate crisis and mass extinctions.”
- Next week’s planned court hearing is expected to go ahead on Tuesday because the changes to the order have to be confirmed.