INJUNCTION INJUSTICE: THE GROWING THREAT TO CIVIL LIBERTIES FROM FRACKING INJUNCTIONS
Recently, we took part in a symposium held in the House of Commons, where speakers addressed the rising threat to human rights and civil liberties in the UK by the use of injunctions brought about by the oil and gas industry. The injunctions are an oppressive attempt to curtail the right to protest against the presence of the oil and gas industry, notably fracking companies – in communities and beyond.
Sponsored by Norman Lamb MP and Sir Kevin Barron MP, the event was organised by Friends of the Earth, Garden Court Chambers, Frack Free United and Talk Fracking. The intention was to bring together some of the UK’s most prominent human rights lawyers and agencies, political parties and relevant NGOs.
Leading practitioner on civil liberties and public law, Stephanie Harrison QC from Garden Court Chambers was one of the speakers, highlighting the human rights aspect of civil injunctions brought by private companies and the danger this poses:
“Those who are participating must continue to exercise their right. We have to keep campaigning and protest about matters of concern and importance.
“Yes, we also have to challenge the injunctions in the courts, but challenging in the courts is never enough. Even if we succeed, the company can come back with other ways to undermine people’s rights.
“Real democracy is when people say ‘enough is enough, this is not acceptable’, and they take steps to pursue that.
“If we do not succeed in overturning this process, then I think that we have to recognise…very wide-ranging injunctions are going to be made with large repercussions across the board for many people with no effective opposition.
“For that reason alone this form of proceedings must be categorised as unacceptable and challenged both politically, as well as legally in the courts.”
Liberal Democrat MP, Norman Lamb, himself a former solicitor, expressed dismay at the process of injunctions being implemented, stating:
“Here we have a secret process with draconian sanctions. It is unconscionable that companies are using these injunctions which have a chilling effect on the right to protest.”
Sir Kevin Barron, the Labour MP for Rother Valley – an INEOS constituency – talked about fracking in heavily-faulted areas (see the report by Professor Peter Styles that we launched in Parliament last year) and reminisced back to the 1984-85 Miners’ Strike, where the police stopped protestors for illegitimate reasons, under Thatcher’s leadership.
Talk Fracking’s Joe Corré, who is himself a challenger of an unjust injunction brought by INEOS, was a speaker at the event, highlighting that oil and gas companies can use secret courts to obtain injunctions against communities and ‘persons unknown’ as a deterrent against the right to protest:
“These injunctions started by INEOS are a full-frontal assault on our civil liberties. By gaming the British legal system and using secret courts, these companies are buying the law.”
Other voices included community campaigners who were implicated in injunctions by oil and gas corporations, including INEOS, Europa and UKOG.
Vicki Elcoate was one of these campaigners. As part of the Weald Action Group, Vicki is one of six women who are appealing against UKOG’s injunction. She said:
“The law should not be there to protect the oil and gas companies against the overwhelming opposition of the people of this threat to industrialise the countryside and pollute our environment…the law needs to uphold the right to peaceful protest.”
Labour’s shadow attorney general, Shami Chakrabarti, also attended the event. The former director of human rights advocacy campaign group, Liberty, Ms Chakrabarti reiterated Labour’s commitment to act, calling for suggestions to create a new legislation which would address the current oppression of the right to protest, saying:
“Historic rights and protest traditions are being abused by companies that are effectively privatising legislation.”
The event was a unique combination of NGOs, campaign groups and MPs, which received cross-party support from Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat, SNP and The Green Party. Future actions on addressing human rights and civil liberties issues around the right to protest against the oil and gas industry can now be progressed following this successful collaboration.