Reproduced from Drill or Drop? Independent evidence-based reporting of the exploitation of onshore oil and gas and the campaign against it
The interim injunction granted to the drilling company Cuadrilla and a group of Lancashire landowners to prevent protests on proposed fracking sites has been extended unopposed at Manchester High Court.
But the judge rejected the company’s application for legal costs of £54,000 against a single anti-fracking campaigner. It was also confirmed for the first time that Cuadrilla is paying the legal costs of the landowners.
The case centred on four areas of land at Little Plumpton and Roseacre, where Cuadrilla has submitted two planning applications to drill and hydraulically fracture shale gas wells. It was brought following the establishment of an anti-fracking camp by a group of grandmothers for three weeks in August in a field belonging to one of the landowners.
At a hearing on August 28th, the claimants (Cuadrilla and the owners) sought an injunction against “persons unknown” and a wide range of anti-fracking groups. That case was adjourned when an anti-fracking campaigner, Tina Louise Rothery, asked for more time to consider opposing the injunction.
Today’s case was against Miss Rothery, “person’s unknown” and anyone who accessed the land. It centred on legal costs because Miss Rothery did not contest the terms of the injunction.
Tom Roscoe, for Cuadrilla and the landowners, said Miss Rothery was liable for the costs because the claimants had been the successful parties. He said evidence of this included the end of the occupation of the field days before the first hearing.
If Miss Rothery had not requested an adjournment, Mr Roscoe said, there would have been no need for today’s hearing. He said the claimants had sought to limit the costs, which otherwise would have been above £100,000.
Mr Roscoe said Miss Rothery had played a key role in organising the occupation of the field and she had publicised the action. He also accused her for making misleading statements about the previous hearing.
He said the rights of freedom of expression and assembly under the European Convention on Human Rights did not legalise trespass or protect a person from liability for costs.
When asked by Judge David Hodge why no VAT had been added to the costs, Mr Roscoe said it was because the VAT could be claimed back. “Is this because Cuadrilla is paying”, asked the judge. “Yes”, said Mr Roscoe.
Felicity Williams, for Miss Rothery, said there should be no order for costs. She said the claimants had not been successful because at the previous hearing they had failed in their attempt to outlaw any actions that encouraged or instructed people to oppose fracking. The only issue that divided the two sides had been the timescale of the injunction against trespass, she said, and Miss Rothery had sought to come to an agreement over that.
Miss Williams said the costs of £54,000 was “manifestly excessive”, adding: “there is a danger that the level of costs will have a chilling effect on the rights to protest and on access to the courts”.
She said additional evidence submitted by the claimants today was unnecessary and some of it duplicated material submitted at the previous hearing. She also accused the claimants of trying to tarnish Miss Rothery’s reputation. Miss Williams said there had been confusion about the scope of the injunction imposed by the previous hearing and this had been clarified only by a transcript made available recently.
Judge Hodge said he was satisfied the claimants had won the case, to which members of the public gallery wearing anti-fracking black and yellow shouted “absolutely not” . The judge extended the injunction to 28 days after a decision was made on planning permission. If this was unexpectedly delayed, he said, the injunction could continue for no more than two years.
He described the costs as considerable and questioned both the hourly rate and the number of hours sought by the claimants. “In my judgement”, he said, “it would not be just to visit considerable costs of bringing these proceedings on one of the trespassers just because she raised her head above the parapet and submitted to be joined to the proceedings. If she had kept quiet the burden of costs would have fallen on the claimants and Cuadrillla. It seems to be to be wrong that she should be subjected to excessive costs.”
He ordered that a separate judge should assess the costs and, as he put it, “scrutinise their reasonableness and proportionality”.
The judge said that in seeking the adjournment, Miss Rothery made today’s hearing inevitable. “In these circumstances I am certain that Miss Rothery has to bear these costs on her own”. He suggested that she invite people who supported her to contribute.