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Government agency targets climate protesters with civil charges on top of their criminal prosecution.
When the retired teacher Gaie Delap climbed up a gantry over the M25 on a grey morning last November, she knew she might face arrest and imprisonment. But she had no idea she could be landed with a bill for legal fees that could be as much as £200,000.
Delap is one of 12 people who breached an injunction granted to National Highways – the Government-owned company that looks after major roads – and who are currently appearing at the High Court.
A judge issued the injunction on the day before the protest, under provisions which meant National Highways didn’t need to name specific people who were barred from protesting or tell specific people about the existence of the ban before they protested. The group didn’t know about the injunction before they took action, and now face up to £200,000 in legal fees and a possible two years in prison. These sanctions would be in addition to criminal charges they face next year, for the same action.
Injunctions are powerful legal tools used to stop people doing something, which are being used more and more to suppress protest. According to Lochlinn Parker, “you can be made to pay costs even if you have not done anything wrong at all”. And “even if the injunction should not be granted, it is risky and very expensive for a protester to challenge it.”
Companies and governments can rack up huge legal bills which people accused of breaching an injunction are forced to pay if they lose and if you challenge an injunction that only increases these costs. Since legal aid is not available for such cases, the amounts incurred can be devastating.
“Something is seriously wrong when the scales of justice are so unbalanced, said Good Law Project Legal Manager Jennine Walker. “Ordinary citizens who are taking peaceful action in protest at the Government’s failure to tackle climate change are being punished to the point of being crushed. And we have to ask ourselves: is this the free and democratic country we want?”
We’re keeping watch on how the state is using injunctions to crack down on protest and exploring how we can make a difference. We must defend our shrinking rights to protest to ensure democracy is upheld.
If you can support our work, including our fight to defend protest rights, any support you can give will help us make positive change.