The day after the official mourning period of the Queen ended Mr Justice Julian Knowles issued a judgement that made British legal history for its scope and scale of curbing future protests in England.
His ruling was an astounding victory for the HS2 Ltd – builders of the £98 billion high speed rail line – and Grant Shapps, the former transport secretary recently sacked by Liz Truss, the new PM.
They had sought an injunction to stop campaigners against the route from disrupting activity – such as building tunnels near London Euston and Staffordshire or trying to stop destruction of the countryside – such as in Wendover, Buckinghamshire- by injuncting all the people involved.
But Mr Justice Julian Knowles gave them more than they could have dreamed of – by injuncting any protest activity along the whole route from London to Crewe- and extending it to categories of unknown people as well as the 59 people named in the injunction bringing in hundreds of thousands of other people who support the protestors.
He ruled that “there has been significant violence, criminality and sometimes risk to the life of the activists, HS2 staff and contractors”, adding that “much of the direct action seems to have been less about expressing the activists’ views about the HS2 Scheme, and more about trying to cause as much nuisance as possible, with the overall aim of delaying, stopping or cancelling it via, in effect, a war of attrition”.
Massive legal precedent set by judge
The legal precedent the judge has allowed could open the doors to other national bodies – such as EDF who run state owned nuclear power plants – or Sellafield to seek such wide ranging injunctions against nuclear protestors – or new fracking companies extending their local injunctions to cover the whole of the country. Or the Just Stop Oil protestors – who have dug tunnels at oil terminals – could find them subject to a national ban.
Parliamentary sovereignty invoked
The judge’s reasoning was simple. He was not taking sides on whether he approved or rejected the construction of HS2. Instead he said the scheme had been approved and debated by Parliament and to protest against it by causing criminal damage was effectively in breach of Parliamentary sovereignty. He denied that his decision would have a chilling effect on protests because people could protest peacefully without having to trespass on the site or block construction entrances.
He bought the arguments of HS2 that these had already cost them £120m and could cost £200m and provided work for 27,000 people. He also accepted that HS2 could not afford to employ security staff or ask the police to patrol the entire route. He saw no point on HS2 issuing damages claims against the named individuals because they had no money.
He defended the huge scale of his injunction by saying: “I have anxiously considered the geographical extent of the injunction along the whole of the HS2 route, and whether it should be more limited.
“I have concluded, however, given the plain evidence of the protesters’ intentions to continue to protest and disrupt without limit – ‘let’s keep fucking up HS2’s day and causing as much disruption and cost as possible. Coming to land near you’ – such an extensive injunction is appropriate.”
Warning to over zealous security staff
He did however issue a warning to overzealous security staff injuring protestors citing the case of one person who knelt on a protestor’s neck – similar to the case of George Floyd who died in the US when a policeman knelt on his neck and sparked the Black Lives Matters protests. Presumably he didn’t want a Protestors Lives Matters campaign in the UK.
What is more interesting is the service of the injunction – which could land people in prison if they disobey it.
For the 59 people named he ruled: “Service of this Order on Named Defendants may be effected by personal service where practicable and/or posting a copy of this Order through the letterbox of each Named Defendant (or leaving in a separate mailbox), with a notice drawing the recipient’s attention to the fact the package contains a court order. If the premises do not have a letterbox, or mailbox, a package containing this Order may be affixed to or left at the front door or other prominent feature marked with a notice drawing the recipient’s attention to the fact that the package contains a court order and should be read urgently.”
But for the unnamed people the judge ruled that Facebook and Twitter had made large number of people know about the injunction. The protestors’ fundraising account had 265,268 followers.
“A non-exhaustive review of Facebook shows that information about the injunction and/or the link to a fundraiser has been posted and shared extensively across pages with thousands of followers and public groups with thousands of followers. Membership of the groups on Facebook to which the information has been shared amounts to 564,028.”
So there was no need for HS2 to individually inform these people.
A spokesperson for HS2 Ltd said: “HS2 Ltd welcomes this judgment and its approval of the route-wide injunction. As Justice Knowles makes clear, this injunction will not, and is not intended to, stop legitimate protest. Instead, we hope the injunction will prevent the violence, intimidation and criminal damage these protests have frequently caused, harming the HS2 project and those working on it, and costing the UK taxpayer millions of pounds.”
But it looks as though protestors may challenge this judgement
The Guardian reported :” Lawyers representing one of the environmental activists. Nicola Hall of Robert Lizar solicitors, representing the activist James Knaggs, said: “This is a disappointing outcome. This injunction represents a concerning extension of the powers of a state-owned limited company to control and police large swathes of land across England. There is a concern that it constitutes a wide-ranging restriction on protests opposed to HS2 and is of extremely large geographical scope. It applies to very large areas of land, much of which is unfenced and unmarked.”
I can see this issue developing now Liz Truss is committed to creating growth and allowing free market policies at the expense of the environment, human rights and equal justice for all.
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