Friends of the Earth commences High Court action against Cuadrilla over 'unlawful' anti-protest injunction
Friends of the Earth has launched legal proceedings against fracking firm Cuadrilla to force it to substantially reduce its wide-ranging injunction which restricts protest against its operations at Preston New Road in Lancashire. An initial hearing on the challenge will take place this week at the High Court in Manchester (Friday 28th 2019).
The move comes following a landmark case at the Court of Appeal in March 2019, in which Friends of the Earth intervened, which found that substantial parts of a similar injunction granted to fossil fuel giant Ineos were unlawful on human rights grounds and would have a chilling effect on peaceful protest. The Court of Appeal ordered extensive changes to the Ineos injunction to protect civil liberties and free speech. These included removing restrictions on persons unknown “combining together” to unlawfully causing loss to INEOS, protesting against its suppliers and contractors, and protesting on the public highway, using tactics such as slow walking.
Following that judgement Friends of the Earth wrote to Cuadrilla in May 2019 informing the company that it believed its injunction - which contains many similar elements, and vague and uncertain terms which the Court of Appeal objected to in the Ineos case - was unlawful, demanding that it be varied to meet the standards set by the Court of Appeal. Cuadrilla has refused to do so and Friends of the Earth has now filed an application to the High Court to vary the injunction.
Friends of the Earth's Head of Political Affairs, Dave Timms said: "Injunctions such as that granted to Cuadrilla, raise very significant human rights issues and are a sinister attempt to use the law to stop peaceful protest against the fracking industry. They create a climate of fear where people taking peaceful protest are uncertain about whether their actions could breach the often vague and uncertain terms of the injunction, with the risk of imprisonment or having their assets seized if they do. Rather than being dealt with by the criminal courts, they put decisions about public order policing into the hands of the oil and gas industry with their army of corporate lawyers and private security firms. The Court of Appeal rightly ordered significant reductions to Ineos' draconian and wide-ranging injunction, to protect human rights. Cuadrilla must now abide by this judgement."
The legal process for the challenge will start with a directions hearing, which will be held at the end of a 4 day committal hearing starting on Tuesday 25th June at the High Court in Manchester. Three peaceful protesters are facing enforcement proceedings brought by Cuadrilla for alleged breaches of the terms of its injunction, and could be found in Contempt of Court. This might mean significant fines or even imprisonment.
Notes to editors:
- Friends of the Earth is represented by Stephanie Harrison QC, Stephen Clark and Tihomir Mak of Garden Court Chambers, and Michael Oswald of Bhatt Murphy solicitors. The Cuadrilla injunction is one of five similar wide-ranging and draconian injunctions granted since 2017 to fossil fuel firms against certain protest activity by 'persons unknown'. These highly controversial injunctions, granted to 5 fossil fuel firms, cover 16 sites in 10 counties.
- In bringing these proceedings, Friends of the Earth is standing with communities who are fighting fracking operations. It objected to the terms of Cuadrilla’s injunction when it was originally granted in Summer 2018, and has brought legal action or objected to similar injunctions obtained by other fracking companies including UKOG and Ineos.