Environmental campaign group Friends of the Earth has been granted permission to intervene in the case of three fracking protesters who are appealing their custodial sentences on Wednesday 17 October at the Court of Appeal.
The organisation has decided to intervene in the appeal as it believes the sentences could set a dangerous precedent that punishes environmental protestors for their beliefs.
Friends of the Earth, represented by Leigh Day and Matrix Chambers, will argue in written submissions to the Court of Appeal that the sentences given to the three men breached Articles 9, 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
They will argue that the trial judge’s decision to treat the appellants’ deeply held opposition to fracking as a factor requiring the imposition of immediate custodial sentences was contrary to sentencing guidelines and legal precedent, and that the sentences imposed were disproportionate.
On 26 September 2018 Simon Roscoe Blevins, Richard Roberts and Richard Loizou were given immediate custodial sentences of 15 and 16 months, at Preston Crown Court, after being convicted of causing a public nuisance. This related to peaceful protest at the Preston New Road fracking site near Blackpool, where they blocked a convoy of trucks who were heading into the site.
In sentencing, the judge is reported to have remarked that the men were not suitable for suspended sentences because of their “unswerving beliefs that they were right [in their protest against fracking]”. Friends of the Earth will argue that this approach to sentencing was wrong in principle and in law and led to sentences which were manifestly excessive.
In their legal submissions, Friends of the Earth will argue that a coherent conscientious objection to the exploitation of fossil fuels and an ardent belief in the need for urgent action to prevent climate change falls within and is protected by Article 9 of the ECHR - the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. They will argue that peaceful direct action protests fall within the scope of Article 10 (the right to freedom of expression and information) and Article 11 (the right to freedom of assembly and association).
Friends of the Earth will also argue that contrary to the approach of the trial judge, the convention established by legal precedent, when sentencing protestors, is that when the protestors’ actions are motivated by genuinely-held, good-faith beliefs, they should be subjected to lesser, more lenient sentences, not more punitive sentences.
Katie de Kauwe, lawyer at Friends of the Earth, said:
“We need people in the world who will stand up for what is right. An individual’s moral convictions on climate change or environmental protection shouldn’t be used as a factor to justify harsh sentencing. We believe that the fracking protesters’ passion for the environment was unlawfully used against them, resulting in incorrect and draconian sentences.”
“Our clients strongly believe that the sentences handed down in this case were excessive and inappropriate and set a chilling precedent for other peaceful protesters who engage in protest based on their sincerely held beliefs.”