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Protestors’ Rights

Volume 797: debated on Tuesday 9 April 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the interference with the rights of protestors following the Court of Appeal judgment in Ineos Upstream Limited & Others v Persons Unknown & Others.

My Lords, peaceful protest is a vital part of democratic society. It is a long-standing tradition in this country that people are free to gather together and demonstrate their views, provided that they do so within the law. The granting of injunctions is a discretionary matter for the courts.

I thank the Minister for her Answer, and that is of course true. However, one of the big problems with these injunctions is that they are so wide-ranging and some of the decisions are made in secret meetings, which I think anyone would be concerned about. One thing that the Government could do is look at the Civil Procedure Rules and, where persons unknown are included in the injunction—which of course makes it very broad—if a legal representative were appointed to represent those persons unknown, there would be fewer infractions of the human right to protest. Will she commit to reviewing the Civil Procedure Rules?

I think I know the case to which the noble Baroness refers, and there has been an appeal of the ruling in that case. I recognise the point that she makes about persons unknown. Because an appeal has been upheld, it will be up to the company involved to relook at the prime reason for the application for the injunction. The point about applications being wide-ranging is certainly something the court may take into consideration.

Last week, in the INEOS case, the Court of Appeal discharged injunctions against two groups of protesters and remitted to the trial judge for his reconsideration on a limited basis injunctions against two other groups of protesters on grounds, allegedly, of trespass, obstruction of access and so forth. Does not the Minister agree that while that litigation continues to run its course, it would be quite inappropriate for the Government to make any assessment of, to quote the Question,

“interference with the rights of protesters”?

The litigation is deciding what the rights of protesters here may be.

Does my noble friend agree that it would be much better if INEOS and other such energy companies engaged at the earliest possible stage with local communities, and that it would stand INEOS and those companies in good stead if they would respect the energy law laid down that there will be no fracking in, near, above or below a national park?

Certainly, any large organisation that needs to impact a community would be well advised to engage with it well ahead of time. During such a process, people who protest have to balance their right to protest with their responsibility to uphold the law.

My Lords, why do companies need injunctions? If the protest is lawful, the police should facilitate it. If it is illegal, the police should take action against those involved. Is current legislation inadequate, or are there insufficient police resources?

Lancashire police received nearly £3 million in special grant in the year 2018-19, so I do not think the resources are inadequate. The two processes need to run alongside each other—both the application to the court by the organisation concerned, and indeed the upholding of law and order by the police.