The rights to freedom of assembly and freedom of speech of thought, conscience and religion are enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), the Human Rights Act 1988 and in UK Common law..
Public protest is also deeply rooted in our culture. It has changed the course of history many times. Protests may take many different forms: ranging from action by one person acting alone to a demonstration attended by thousands of people.
Yet this right is being steadily eroded – including by intimidating policing, Section 5 of Public Order Act, the blanket use of Section 14 of the Public Order Act (which has recently been challenged in the High Court) and by the increasing use of injunctions. Anti-fracking protestors have been classified as ‘domestic extremists’, including in a recent training video for Surrey County Council, based on advice from Surrey Police.
Objectors to the expansion of onshore oil and gas are campaigners, not extremists.
Hundreds of people across England have protested against fracking and exploratory drilling for unconventional oil and gas in recent years.
The Weald saw its first major anti-fracking protests at Balcombe in 2013. Local people and environmental campaigners set up a protest camp outside Cuadrilla’s drill site and used non-violent direct action to protest and slow down incoming haulage to impede the flow tests. At peak, there were 2,000 protesters at Balcombe and 120 arrests, including Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, of which only a third resulted in conviction. This type of protest held up the drilling so that Cuadrilla ran out of time to test the well before their planning permission expired.
Since then, people have protested at every attempt to drill and produce oil in our area, including at Broadford Bridge, Horse Hill, Leith Hill and Brockham. They have used a wide range of creative and peaceful methods to disrupt and delay the activities of the oil and gas industry and to raise public awareness of the impacts of this method of fossil fuel extraction.
The policing of these protests has often involved a disproportionate deployment of police officers and large numbers of arrests – and provoked high numbers of complaints.
“A chilling effect on protests”
Researchers at Liverpool John Moores University, studied the policing of protests against onshore oil and gas extraction in England, including in Surrey and Sussex. Their report, Protesters’ experiences of policing at anti-fracking protests in England, 2016-2019: a national study, found that while protests have been overwhelmingly peaceful, protesters have experienced violence and intimidation. Policing is having a chilling effect on protests, with some people deterred from participating.
A review by the Police into the policing of onshore oil and gas sites has been long promised and much delayed
Injunctions at oil and gas sites are also a deterrent to peaceful protest. The oil and gas companies can buy ‘persons unknown’ injunctions in court without anyone present to defend against them. Angus Energy and UK Oil and Gas Plc (UKOG) have both secured injunctions in this way to prevent peaceful protest in the Weald.
The injunctions try to define what is peaceful protest and threaten draconian sanctions – like prison or seizing assets – for breaking them. This undermines our human rights.
The Weald Action Group is supporting five women who are challenging a ‘persons unknown’ injunction secured by UKOG for Horse Hill and Broadford Bridge. Read more about the UKOG injunction.
Members of the Weald Action Group have also successfully challenged in the High Court the wrongful listing of individuals in an Angus Energy injunction which brought them into disrepute.
Find out more
- Netpol (the Network for Police Monitoring) works alongside campaigning groups and movements to protect their freedom to protest
- Protesters’ experiences of policing at anti-fracking protests in England, 2016-2019: a national study
- Green and Black Cross – Dealing With Injunctions – A Brief Protestor’s Guide