Anti-fracking campaigners challenge gas giant’s bid to trample on right to protest
THE right to protest in Britain hung in the balance yesterday as campaigners challenged a court decision to ban peaceful action against the controversial fracking process.
In September, petrochemical giant Ineos won a court injunction to prevent protests at exploratory drilling sites in the East Midlands. It is now fighting to have it extended.
If Ineos succeeds, anti-fracking campaigners could be prevented from protesting across Britain.
Mr Justice Morgan originally made the order against “persons unknown” and two named individuals.
The injunction bans protests involving trespass and obstruction of the activities of Ineos and companies who supply its sites.
Breach of the injunction carries sentences of up to six months’ imprisonment plus fines of up to £5,000.
Environmental campaigners challenged it in the High Court, describing the ruling as “draconian” as it “seriously limits the right of people to protest.”
At the hearing, campaigner Joe Boyd argued that the injunction was unlawful as it restricted the rights of people to protest against drilling for shale gas across Britain and that Ineos “did not produce the evidence justifying such a broad court order.”
Leigh Day solicitor Rosa Curling, representing the campaigners, said: “We believe the terms of the interim injunction breach Articles 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantee the right to freedom of expression and freedom of association.
“If this pre-emptive injunction is allowed to stand, our rights as citizens of the UK to engage in peaceful protests will be significantly curtailed.
“The right to protest is a vital part of our democracy. Our client is fighting against this injunction to ensure that local people, citizens and campaigners retain their right to hold peaceful protests against the fracking industry and those involved in it.”
Rural areas in Yorkshire and Lancashire are being particularly targeted by energy exploitation firms using the fracking process — hydraulic fracturing, which involves drilling deep into the Earth’s surface to reach layers of shale.
Chemicals, water and sand are then pumped in at high pressure to shatter the shale layers to release gas.
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FROM P1: Opponents argue that the process threatens to pollute water tables, damages the surrounding environment, industrialises the countryside and even causes minor earthquakes.
In Lancashire, local authorities, including Lancashire County Council, refused planning permission for exploratory drilling by fracking firms. But they were over-ruled by Communities Secretary Sajid Javid.
Daily protests have since been mounted at a fracking site operated by energy firm Cuadrilla at a rural site at Preston New Road, near Fylde, in Lancashire.
Similar protests continue at a drilling site near the village of Kirby Misperton in rural North Yorkshire.
The London hearing is expected to last three days.
Ineos lawyer Alan Maclean QC told the judge: “Shale gas extraction is a lawful commercial activity and the claimants have a right to carry out those activities without risk of unlawful interference.”
The order sought was to “prohibit unlawful activities on private and public land.”
Mr Maclean said: “The claimants respect the fact that members of the public have a right in this free and democratic society to protest lawfully if they so wish.”
It was no part of the claimants’ agenda to “seek to stifle the lawful exercise of such rights”, Mr Maclean added.