12:18, April 03 119 0 theguardian.com

2019-04-03 12:18:04
Protesters hail legal victory over fracking firm's injunction

Campaigners have hailed a legal victory against a multinational company that took out a “draconian and anti-democratic” injunction against protesters.

On Wednesday, three court of appeal judges ruled in favour of campaigners who wanted to overturn the wide-ranging injunction that had been granted to the petrochemicals giant Ineos, which is owned by Britain’s richest man, Jim Ratcliffe, and aspires to become a leading fracking firm.

A series of energy companies have been granted similar injunctions against protesters in recent years. Campaigners hope the latest ruling will enable them to turn back the tide of injunctions.

In 2017, the high court granted Ineos the sweeping injunction that sought to prevent all campaigners from obstructing its fracking operations, or significantly interfering with its lawful activities. The campaigners faced being jailed, fined or having their assets seized if they broke the injunction.

Two environmental campaigners – Joe Corré, the son of the fashion designer Vivienne Westwood, and Joe Boyd – challenged the injunction, saying it was draconian, anti-democratic and dramatically curtailed protesters’ rights.

On Wednesday, Lord Justice Longmore, sitting with two other judges, granted the pair’s appeal, ruling that the injunction was “too wide and insufficiently clear”.

They decided that the judge who granted the initial injunction had “attempted to do the impossible” and made an order that was “too wide and too uncertain”.

Longmore said: “The citizen’s right of protest is not to be diminished by advance fear of committal except in the clearest of cases.”

The judges discharged parts of the injunction, which campaigners argued was having a serious effect on lawful and legitimate protest activities. These related to protests in public areas and protesters combining together with the intention of damaging Ineos.

The judges maintained two other aspects of the injunction, pending reconsideration by the high court of whether the campaigners’ right to freedom of expression would be restricted.

Corré said the result was “fantastic”. Dave Timms, the head of political affairs at the environmental group Friends of the Earth (FoE), which intervened in the case, 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.”

According to FoE, five fossil fuel companies have injunctions in force against protesters at sites spread across 10 counties.

Tom Pickering, Ineos’ chief operations officer, said: “We are talking with our legal team about our next steps, because we believe it is essential that the forces of law and order prevail. We respect peaceful protest, but we must stand up to the militants who game the legal system with intimidation and mob rule. We stand for jobs and opportunity. They stand for anarchy in the UK.”

At the original hearing in 2017, Ineos was forced to back down and disclose a legal document it had used to justify the injunction after it had been requested by the Guardian under open justice rules.

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