Corporate Watch : July 3, 2013 : Test Case against anti-corporate campaigners fails at the Old Bailey
Two campaigners against animal testing had their charges dropped at the Old Bailey on 12 June 2013. E and L had been charged with breaching a civil injunction placing restrictions on protest against Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS), Europe's biggest animal testing laboratory, and its employees.
E and L had staged a peaceful and loud protest at a university careers fair at Imperial College, London where HLS was running a stall. According to their lawyers It was alleged that they interfered with employees of HLS by attending a university careers fair, standing by the HLS stall and making it known what their views of the activities of HLS were so that students around the stall could hear. E and L, who had unfurled posters inside the fair, were escorted out by security guards but not arrested.
E and L's protest was identical to those carried out across the UK at university recruitment fairs by different campaign groups, for example Campaign Against the Arms Trade last year called for protests around the country against arms dealer BAE Systems presence at careers fairs (see here). However under the terms of the civil injunction E and L's actions could have resulted in up to five years in prison. In addition, they were subjected to house searches and bail conditions aimed at stopping them from taking part in further resistance against corporate abuses of animals.
A few months later the YouTube video of E and L's protest was viewed by an officer from the National Extremism Tactical Coordination Unit (NETCU). NETCU, is a political unit of the police tasked with undermining 'domestic extremism'. In practice this means obstructing and criminalising resistance against corporate and state power. Campaigners involved in concerted campaigns against corporations, such as SHAC, are of special concern to NETCU. The unit has now been reorganised within the Metropolitan Police 'Service' as part of the National Domestic Extremism Unit (NDEU) under the aegis of the National Coordinator for Domestic Extremism (NCDE), however its role remains the same.
Although no one had complained about E and L's protest, the NETCU officer flagged it up as a breach of the HLS injunction. In July 2012 L's house was searched, along with the houses of several other activists, and she was arrested. E was abroad at the time but, after being told by her lawyers that the police had a warrant for her arrest, she returned to the UK and handed herself in. E and L were arrested and charged with two counts of harassment; 'harassing' and 'molesting' the two people running the stall for HLS.
E and L were given bail conditions not to talk to each other, to 'live and sleep' at the addresses they had given the police, not to attend SHAC demonstrations or to contact employees of HLS. These conditions were in place for almost a year. Police were deliberately obstructive of requests by the defendants to visit their parents overnight at Christmas or to stay with their partners, even these minor requests had to be agreed by the courts. Eventually, after much legal wrangling, the residency conditions were dropped.
On top of the bail conditions, E has been singled out for harassment by the police under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act (2000). Schedule 7 gives police the right to stop people at border crossings and question them. Under the terms of the act it is a criminal offence not to provide an officer with information. However, the questioning is supposed to be for the sole purpose of investigating acts of terrorism and their preparation. For more information on Schedule 7 see www.corporatewatch.org/?lid=4716.
E has been stopped several times when crossing the channel, border officials have told her that her passport has been flagged. E told Corporate Watch that there is a note on my passport saying I'm a known SHAC activist and that police/border officials should contact New Scotland Yard.
Of course, its not illegal to be involved in SHAC. SHAC is not a proscribed organisation. The police are using provisions like Schedule 7 to intimidate activists involved in resistance against corporate power.
E and L were prosecuted under the Protection from Harassment Act (1997) (PHA Act). An act that was passeed through parliament as a measure to protect individuals from stalkers. However, the High Court has ruled that corporations can obtain injunctions against protesters under the Act. Thus a law which has been presented to the public as a legal remedy to protect the vulnerable from harassment is being used to protect the powerful from resistance from below.
E and L were not named in the original High Court injunction acquired by HLS. E was served with a copy of the injunction by a security guard working for the company back in 2006 while attending a demonstration but has never been named in subsequent injunctions.
However, police and prosecutors have always assumed that PHA Act injunctions are not only binding on those named on them but also against anyone who can be defined as a 'protester', i.e. potentially anyone at all. This has never been put to the test. The Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC) campaign's report on the case stated that during the hearing it was admitted that the prosecution was being pursued in order to test the law. The police wanted to see how far the injunction could be used to secure convictions and higher sentences for protesters.
The test case failed with the court ruling that as E and L were not defendants in the High Court civil injunction proceedings that the prosecution would have to apply to the High Court to enforce the injunction against them.
Birds Solicitors, representing E and L, wrote:
It was successfully argued that the injunction could not be enforced against either party as they were not "defendants" in the civil injunction proceedings. In order to proceed in the criminal court, permission was required from the High Court to enforce the injunction against both parties. At the time of obtaining the injunction HLS had sought to persuade the judge to dispense with the requirement for permission under Rule 19.6(4) of the Civil Procedure Rules. This was refused by the judge at that time and it should have been known to the prosecuting authorities that this would therefore be an issue that required resolution before proceeding against two individuals in the criminal courts. The case was therefore concluded following legal argument by the Crown offering no evidence and not guilty verdicts being entered.
The Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC) campaign wrote
From the start, the prosecution appears to have been politically motivated. The case was taken up by the police, even though they hadn't received a complaint from the alleged victims. Despite the fact the protest lasted no more than 5 minutes, the prosecution stated that they wanted 6-9 months imprisonment upon conviction and with a last minute change, the trial was moved to the Old Bailey, the UK's most notorious court where major criminal cases are heard. Many individuals at the court were amazed and confused to learn why the 2 protesters were there, with one member of staff exclaiming "is this case for real?" and stating that she was "disgusted" and "embarrassed" about the situation.
E told Corporate Watch It is a great relief to have had this case dropped, although it seemed so passive when actually in court - after house-raids, warrants, arrests and strict bail conditions, we basically sat there listening to a conversation between our barrister, the CPS lawyer and the judge and then we could leave. And that's how a year of stress and waiting came to an end, 16 months after our 'crime' had been committed.
I just want to thank everyone who supported us through this case as it was a pretty stressful ordeal to be put through so that the police and prosecution could "test" the limits of the injunction.
The case is important as it limits the effectiveness of the PHA Act in repressing protest. The ruling means that HLS, and other companies who have been granted injunctions under the Act, will have to apply to the High Court before people who are not listed on the injunction can be prosecuted. Although the ruling is not technically binding it will be persuasive in future cases, in particular because it was made by a relatively senior judge at the Old Bailey.
In practice, this means that the police may need to be extremely careful in how they enforce injunctions in the future as there is now a substantial grey area as to whether people who are not specifically named on injunctions can be prosecuted either in the criminal or civil courts without first being added to injunctions by the High Court. Whether alleged breaches of injunctions which took place before a person was added to an injunction will be subject to legal argument.
Stephen Bird of Bird's Solicitors told Corporate Watch The effect of the ruling is that people cannot be prosecuted for breaching an injunction granted under the Protection from Harassment Act, if they are not named on the injunction, without the High Court first giving permission for the prosecution to go ahead.
Although not dealt with in the ruling, the court felt that protesters considered to be in breach of the injunction could still be arrested but could not be charged unless named as defendants in the civil proceedings. It may well be that such prosecutions have now become more difficult or inconvenient as they are likely to involve some cost to the company who has the injunction in seeking to have the individual named as a defendant to allow prosecution.
The case is part of an ongoing campaign of police repression against the SHAC campaign. Seven SHAC activists have been charged with 'conspiracy to interfere with the contractual relations so as to harm an animal research organisation' under Section 144 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act (2005). The charges relate to demonstrations against companies with business relationships with HLS. The seven were arrested in January 2013 and given bail conditions which remained in place until they were charged on June 10th. A further three activists have been charged with conspiracy to blackmail. In 2009 seven activists were jailed for a total of 50 year for conspiracy to blackmail in a political trial that had serious ramifications for the right of individuals to voice their dissent against corporate power. For more info on the 2009 SHAC 7 trial see www.corporatewatch.org/?lid=3194 and www.corporatewatch.org/?lid=3191.
Of course, you are unlikely to read about any of this in the mainstream media. The demonisation of animal rights activists by organisations like NETCU and NCDE has taken its toll and, although newspapers such as The Guardian are happy to write about the repression of people they can present as 'good' protesters, they have remained silent about the repression of the animal rights movement. E and L's recent case received no mainstream media coverage. For more on NETCU's influence on the media see www.corporatewatch.org/?lid=3179.
UK animal rights activists are calling for solidarity against this latest wave of repression. For more information or to get involved with the campaign against UK animal rights repression, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
To read more about how dissent is managed within a 'democracy' see Corporate Watch's new book Managing Democracy Managing Dissent'