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High Court upholds “draconian” injunction granted to fracking company Ineos

Today, the High Court has upheld and renewed a pre-emptive injunction granted to fracking company INEOS

Posted on 23 November 2017

INEOS is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of chemical and oil products, and the largest owner of shale licenses in the UK, with fracking licenses that cover more than 1.2m acres of land across the north‐west of England, Yorkshire and the Midlands.

In July 2017, INEOS was granted an unprecedented injunction against protesters, which applies not only to eight sites across England, where fracking is planned or under investigation by INEOS, but also to a large number of unidentified group companies, contractors, subcontractors and other entities which make up INEOS’s ‘supply chain’.

In July 2017, at a hearing at which only INEOS was represented, INEOS was granted an injunction against “persons unknown”, forbidding them from interfering in the lawful activities of INEOS staff and their contractors.

Environmental activists Joseph Boyd, represented by Leigh Day Solicitors, and fellow campaigner, Joseph Corré, represented by Bhatt Murphy Solicitors, applied to the court, seeking the injunction’s discharge.

A three-day hearing took place, at which the men argued that the unprecedented injunction was unlawful. They argued that INEOS had failed to provide the court with evidence which justified such a broad injunction and that the order was having a substantial impact on the legitimate rights of those people wishing to protest lawfully against fracking across the UK.

In a witness statement to the court, Caroline Lucas MP stated: “Reasonable obstructions of the highway, such as slow walking, and peaceful protests are legitimate tactics in the anti-fracking and other political movements…Slow walking has become a particularly important form of protesting in the anti-fracking movements across the UK and I understand the injunction obtained by Ineos makes this unlawful – a development which I think is extremely worrying and detrimental to our democracy.”

The Honourable Mr Justice Morgan disagreed. Today, he has renewed the interim injunction in all respects save harassment. Mr Justice Morgan accepts INEOS’ evidence that the injunction was justified to “protect people on and around [their] sites and supply chain”.

On slow walking, he held: “The "walking" by the protestors was at an unnaturally slow pace… A court would take the view that standing still in order to block the passage of vehicles on the highway, because the vehicles are being used for a purpose to which the protestor objects would not be a reasonable use of the highway… I simply do not see that the somewhat token amount of movement involved in slow walking would change the legal assessment of the protestors' actions… The rights of the fracking operators should prevail over the claims of the protestors to be entitled to do what they do under Articles 10 and 11. The protestors are doing much more than expressing their opinions about the undesirability of fracking. They are taking direct action against the fracking operators in an attempt to make them stop their fracking activities. It would not be surprising in such a case that the court would take the view that balancing the entitlement to freedom of expression and assembly against the rights of others, the balance should be struck in favour of protecting the rights of others from a direct interference with those rights.”

Today’s judgment will mean that individuals will be in contempt of court if they engage in a variety of different forms of protests, which have not previously been held to be unlawful in all circumstances. An arrest for breach of this injunction could result in a prison sentence of up to two years and/or a fine up to £5,000.

Rosa Curling, solicitor at law firm Leigh Day, said: “Free speech is at the heart of any democracy. This case is about the right to protest, a right which has always been, and must continue to be, a fundamental aspect of peaceful political action in our society. Without the right to protest effectively, the ability of citizens to peacefully challenge injustices will be severely curtailed.”

Joe Boyd said: “What INEOS has obtained from the Court today is profoundly troubling, it allows for an unprecedented restriction on our fundamental rights. The removal of the harassment aspect of the injunction is an important victory for us. But the rest of the injunction cannot be left unchallenged and we will be filing an application for permission to appeal.”

Mr Boyd was represented by law firm Leigh Day and barristers Heather Williams QC, Blinne Ní Ghrálaigh and Jennifer Robinson.

He has been given fourteen days to submit an application for permission to appeal against the judgment.