The environment charity Friends of the Earth (FOE) today claimed a "huge legal victory" over oil and gas giant INEOS at the Court of Appeal with the company's anti-protest injunction being declared unlawful.
The judgement has far-reaching implications for members of the public peacefully protesting against oil and gas extraction who have been increasingly faced by injunctions. There are similar court orders currently granted to five fossil fuel companies in force at sites spread across ten counties.
FOE intervened in support of the appeal brought by activists Joe Corré and Joe Boyd, against a "draconian" injunction which severely restricted protest against INEOS’ fracking activities.
The Court of Appeal today ruled that INEOS’ injunction had been granted unlawfully by the High Court. It has ordered extensive changes to the injunction to protect civil liberties and free speech.
These include the complete removal of two key elements with significant and wide-ranging effects: persons unknown unlawfully causing loss to INEOS by “combining together” and protesting against INEOS’ suppliers, and persons unknown protesting on the public highway, using tactics such as slow walking.
While the prohibitions against persons unknown trespassing on INEOS’ land and interfering with private rights of way have been maintained for now, the Court of Appeal has held that the High Court did not apply the correct test under the Human Rights Act when it granted the injunction.
INEOS must now return to Court so that these two remaining elements can be assessed against the correct test to see if they still stand or if they should change.
Dave Timms, head of political affairs at Friends of the Earth, said: "This is a humiliating defeat for INEOS and a victory for campaigners and human rights.
"We believe that these injunctions are a sinister attempt to use the law to stop peaceful protest against the fracking industry. The ruling today confirms our view that INEOS’ injunction was wrongly granted and unlawfully stifled protest.
"Wherever fracking is attempted it meets fierce resistance by local communities. The Court of Appeal today stood up for their right to peaceful protest and free speech."
Stephanie Harrison QC, of Garden Court Chambers, said: "Today’s judgement recognises the serious chilling effect of the INEOS injunction on civil liberties, particularly the broad, sweeping terms of the injunction against wide categories of persons unknown.
“The outcome of this case serves to underline the importance of the Human Rights Act 1998 as a safeguard for fundamental freedoms like free speech and the right to protest. These rights are the life blood of our democracy.
"This judgement makes clear that the Court will intervene to prevent powerful companies like INEOS using draconian injunctions to intimidate and deter people from participating in lawful protest against fracking, which is widely seen by campaigners and local people affected to be dangerous and damaging to the environment and their communities."
FOE has objected to, or taken legal action to oppose, a number of similar injunctions granted to Cuadrilla, UK Oil and Gas and other firms and today signalled that these could now be under threat following the INEOS judgement.
Timms concluded: "Following this judgement we will be writing to other firms granted similar anti-protest injunctions informing them that they should withdraw or substantially amend them or face possible legal action. This attempt by oil and gas companies to use the law to silence protest and free speech is now doomed."
FOE asked the Court of Appeal for permission to intervene in the public interest, in light of the significant implications of the INEOS injunction for civil liberties and human rights.
Despite INEOS seeking to argue that FOE should be locked out, it was granted permission and its contribution to the legal proceedings was expressly recognised by the Court of Appeal in its judgement.
This article is based on a press release from Friends of the Earth.