A multinational firm has secured a long-term, sweeping injunction against anti-fracking protesters despite critics calling it “draconian and anti-democratic”.
On Thursday, a high court judge extended the wide-ranging injunction sought by petrochemicals giant Ineos, which covers all anti-fracking campaigners.
The injunction prohibits campaigners from interfering unlawfully with Ineos’s fracking operations. Anyone who obstructs the firm’s fracking activities faces being jailed, fined, or having their assets seized.
Mr Justice Morgan dismissed a legal challenge brought by two anti-fracking campaigners, Joe Corré, the son of fashion designer Vivienne Westwood, and Joe Boyd, who had argued that the injunction was oppressive and should be discarded.
Boyd said he will seeking to appeal the ruling which he called “profoundly troubling” and “an unprecedented restriction on our fundamental rights”.
The legal case could have important implications for campaigners protesting against the activities of corporations as other firms could be encouraged to take out similar injunctions.
Jonathan Bartley, co-leader of the Green party, said:“This ruling places the right to protest under threat. Ineos have won a technical battle but they are on the wrong side of history and will not win the war.”
He said that the “opposition to fracking will never be silenced and the campaign for a future that’s clean and green will win out in the end.” There is low support for fracking, according to polls.
In his ruling, Morgan said that he agreed with Ineos’s argument that it faced “an imminent and real risk” that campaigners will interfere with the firm’s legal rights.
“Ineos’s business activities are lawful. The [campaigners] wish Ineos to stop carrying on those activities and wish to put pressure on Ineos to stop. However, on my findings in this judgment, the [campaigners’] means of putting pressure on Ineos involve unlawful behaviour on their part, including criminal acts”. He added that the injunction related primarily to trespass and obstructing public roads.
Ineos is aiming to become a leading fracking company and holds drilling licences that cover more than 1m acres of land.
The firm, owned by billionaire Jim Ratcliffe, had been given an interim injunction in July at an unannounced court hearing at which no campaigners were at that time given an opportunity to object.
Ineos have said that “militant activists have a long history of intimidation, threats and dangerous direct action” against the fracking industry.
Its lawyers presented evidence – consisting of more than 3,000 pages and videos – which they said showed that Ineos is facing a “significant degree of hostility” from campaigners.
They described what they said were threatening comments by protesters on social media, adding that other fracking firms had been subjected to “repeated acts of unlawful trespass”.
They told Morgan that the injunction – addressed to “persons unknown” – was directed at prohibiting unlawful activities, not curtailing lawful protest.
At a three-day hearing in October, Alan MacLean, its QC, said Ineos respects “the fact that members of the public have a right in this free and democratic society to protest lawfully if they so wish. It is no part of Ineos’s agenda to seek to stifle the lawful exercise of such rights.”
Rosa Curling, solicitor at law firm Leigh Day representing Boyd, said: “Free speech is at the heart of any democracy. This case is about the right to protest, a right which has always been, and must continue to be, a fundamental aspect of peaceful political action in our society. Without the right to protest effectively, the ability of citizens to peacefully challenge injustices will be severely curtailed.”
In his ruling, Morgan told Ineos that it needed to have a clearer definition of one aspect of the injunction – what constituted harassment of its fracking operations.
Ineos welcomed the ruling. Tom Pickering, its operations director, said the injunction simply protected Ineos and its employees “from hardcore activists who game the system and treat the law with contempt.”
“Our people have the right to go to work free from fear of violence and unlawful interference,” he added.
• If you would like to pass on information in confidence, you can send a message via the Guardian’s SecureDrop service. See how here.