The High Court has granted a final injunction to UK Oil & Gas to prevent specific protests at its Horse Hill site by a small number of activists.
The order, approved at an online hearing this morning, is against five named campaigners: Scott Breen, Ross Monaghan, Callum Eden, Christopher Smith and Simon Sinclair.
It prevents them from trespassing at Horse Hill, obstructing the entrance or climbing on to vehicles visiting the site.
The judge, Sir Anthony Mann, said UKOG’s case succeeded “on the basis of the material before the court”.
“[The company] have established all they need to. I grant the injunction.”
This is the first of several injunctions granted to onshore oil and gas companies in England to be made final.
It is the latest court hearing in a long-running legal attempt by UKOG, to restrain protests at its sites.
Since the company’s first interim injunction, published in March 2018, the order has been significantly scaled back.
It originally applied to persons unknown and later to more than 100 additional named people.
The early versions covered four UKOG premises, including its Guildford headquarters. It prevented legal activities, including taking photographs of the company and its contractors, protesting on the road near the site and publishing negative comments about suppliers.
UKOG gradually reduced the scope of the injunction at various court hearings over the past three years.
It dropped the terms of the order against persons unknown and at three of the four sites. It also removed restrictions on wider campaigning activity and against lawful protest on the public highway and wider
The remaining five campaigners were said by UKOG to have taken part in unlawful protests at Horse Hill.
They did not contest the injunction and did not participate in an online hearing yesterday.
Granting the final injunction, Sir Anthony said it met four tests of whether restrictions were necessary in a democratic society.
He said the aim of the injunction – to protect UKOG’s property – was sufficiently important to justify interference in the campaigners’ human rights.
He said the injunction did not seek to prevent freedom of expression and there was a “rational connection” between its aim and the interference in human rights.
There were no alternative, less restrictive, ways to achieve the injunction’s aim, he said. It also achieved a fair balance between the rights of the individual and the general interest of the community and the company.
Sir Anthony said the activities of the five defendants could not be justified by their rights under the European Convention on Human Rights. Their protests were “not at the core of convention rights”, he said.
The duration of the injunction has yet to be agreed. UKOG was allowed to apply within seven days for an assessment of costs against Mr Smith and Mr Sinclair.
In a statement, UKOG said:
“UKOG repeats what it has always said since the interim injunction was put in place in 2018: It does
not object to peaceful protest. Injunctions would not be needed if the rule of law was observed.
Sadly, there are individuals who do not observe the rule of law or the legitimate interests and rights
of companies such as UKOG and as long as they do so, the courts will continue to issue injunctions to
prevent unlawful activity. Some of these individuals are now bound by undertakings to the court and
paying compensation to UKOG.”
Vicki Elcoate, one for the local women to challenge the injunction, said after the ruling:
“It’s completely unacceptable that an oil company could go to court and buy such a far-reaching and long-lasting injunction, which the courts have ruled can’t be made permanent in this form. It was left to members of the public to challenge this plus raise the funds to go to court and fight it.
“We’re proud that we defended the right to peaceful protest. We are all concerned about the impact the oil industry is having on our climate and countryside, and we have a right to express our views without the chilling effect of an injunction and the severe penalties it threatened.”
Stephanie Harrison QC, who represented the women, said:
“This case graphically shows what the Courts have now accepted and these six women courageously sought to establish, that person’s unknown injunctions are unfair and lead to arbitrary and disproportionate interference with the fundamental right to protest and should only ever be used in very limited circumstances, on a short-term interim basis.
“Moreover, and more widely that private law remedies such as injunctions pursued by Companies to regulate and control ongoing public demonstrations are not well suited for the task.
“Private interests and commercial activity should not be permitted to override civil liberties and usurp the rights of local residents and other members of the public to engage in lawful opposition to those activities and where there is legitimate public concern as in this case, and relating to the impact on the local environment and the climate emergency.”