Environmental and human rights campaigners have claimed a “fantastic” victory after leading judges ruled that an injunction granted to energy giant Ineos was “too wide and insufficiently clear”.
The Court of Appeal on Wednesday discharged parts of an order which opponents argued was having “a very serious chilling effect on lawful and legitimate protest activities”.
The injunction, which was granted by the High Court in November 2017, prevented “persons unknown” from trespassing on or obstructing access to the company’s shale gas sites.
It also prevented people from interfering with public rights of way, for example by blocking the highway, and also from combining together to commit unlawful acts “with the intention of damaging” Ineos or any other companies in its supply chain.
Giving judgment in London, senior judges overturned the injunction as it related to interfering with public rights of way and combining together with the intention of damaging Ineos.
Lord Justice Longmore, sitting with Lord Justice David Richards and Lord Justice Leggatt, ruled that the judge who granted the initial injunction had “attempted to do the impossible” and made an order which was “too wide and too uncertain”.
The court maintained the injunction relating to trespass and obstructing access to Ineos’ sites, pending reconsideration of the orders by the High Court in relation to the right to freedom of expression.
But Lord Justice Longmore found that the lack of a time limit on those orders was “unsatisfactory”.
The judge said in his ruling that it is “only when events have happened which can in retrospect be seen to have been illegal” that the “wide-ranging injunctions” preventing interference with rights of way or combining together should be granted.
He added: “The citizen’s right to protest is not to be diminished by advance fear of committal except in the clearest of cases, of which trespass is perhaps the best example.”
In a statement after the judgment, Joe Corre, one of the two campaigners who challenged the injunction, said: “This is a fantastic result and has restored my confidence in the British legal system.”
Mr Corre added: “Our fight will continue until this treacherous fracking industry is eradicated from Britain once and for all.”
Dave Timms, head of political affairs at Friends of the Earth, 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.
“The ruling today confirms our view that Ineos’ injunction was wrongly granted and unlawfully stifled protest.”
He added: “Following this judgment, 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.”
Tom Pickering, Ineos’ chief operations officer, said: “We welcome the Court of Appeal’s decision to uphold our injunctions protecting people on and around our sites.
“We only secured these injunctions because we are determined to protect our people and suppliers, as well as the communities we work in.
“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.”
Mr Pickering added: “We will always do all we can to protect our colleagues, suppliers and peaceful, law-abiding local people.
“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.”