While virtually all cases against people slow walking in front of lorries at Barton Moss were either dropped or thrown out of court*, if an indefinite injunction is granted to fracking company INEOS tomorrow, campaigners could face six months jail or a £5,000 fine for contempt.
The original interim injunction was granted by the court on a 'pre-emtive' basis, before there were even any protests at the INEOS sites; and was granted in July, right before the summer recess, with no chance to mount opposition.
The injunction was addressed to 'persons unknown' (ie everyone) and one section prohibits "Obstructing the free passage along a highway; including but not limited to slow walking and attaching themselves to any vehicles or other objects along the public highway..."
Another section prohibits "Pursuing any course of conduct such as amounts to intimidation or annoyance by violence ...."
The permanent injunction for eight INEOS sites is being challenged in the Royal Courts of Justice in London tomorrow by Vivienne Westwood's son, Joe Corre, and Joseph Boyd, who is a veteran of the Barton Moss protests in Salford and other protests around the country.
It's being challenged as a breach of Articles 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantee the right to freedom of expression and freedom of association...
"It stifles any form of protest apart from waving a banner" Joseph explains "We've chosen to slow walk on the highway, but they are taking away all our democratic rights. In a way you can stand in the village and wave a banner as the trucks come past and that would be it.
"They can frame it in any way" he adds "People putting memes on social media could be seen as intimidation, all sorts of things. It's not just an attack on freedom of association, I think it's an attack on freedom of speech as well. It's very, very damning stuff and I have to challenge it because if no-one does it will go through. It's more about democracy than anything else."
The injunction would not just be about protests and camps at the actual fracking sites but would stop campaigners from protesting at supplier sites and offices... "This injunction prohibits the defendants from pursuing any course of conduct against the claimants [INEOS] and/or third parties such as amounts to harassment..." it states.
Joseph feels that if the draconian injunction becomes permanent it will set a precedent for other campaigns and protests such as the anti-austerity movement, the anti-arms trade movement and campaigns against homelessness...
"Once you slightly go over waving a banner or signing a petition they will criminalise you" he says "Like this, they can go for a pre-emtive injunction because they would say 'We need to protect ourselves'...
"You'll have people saying 'It doesn't affect me' but I think that's a really dangerous way to look at it because once it's in law, it's there" he concludes "We could be talking about the start of shutting down any dissent. The Government, I think, is using INEOS as one of their weapons."
INEOS recently acquired a fifty per cent interest in seven IGas shale gas licences in the North West. IGas was the company which started exploratory drilling at Barton Moss in Salford, sparking the first mass protest against fracking in the north of England.
Joseph has launched a Crowd Justice funding campaign to help with his costs to Stop The INEOS Fracking Injunction – people can donate by clicking here
* See previous Salford Star article – Salford Slow Walking Protests Ruled Legitimate – click here
Read the full text of the injunction on the INEOS website - click here
The interim injunction was sent to all major anti-fracking groups, from Greenpeace to Reclaim The Power
Update: 13th September:
A three day hearing has been set aside later this year for a further hearing. At court yesterday the judge extended the injunction for two months but altered the wording on 'slow walking', adding "unreasonable" and "without lawful excuse or authority" to the original paragraph (see above).
The judge said: "I am leaving everything open for argument. Nevertheless, I am persuaded to continue the protection [of the injunction] until the matter comes back for a thorough examination.
"The rights of protests in a democratic society need to be conserved with care. I welcome the examination of the evidence of the impacts of the order on a citizen's right to protest on a matter of wide public interest."
For a full report see the Drill Or Drop website – click here
Photo by Steven Speed shows Joseph being arrested at Barton Moss