HS2 Court Injunction Undermines Democracy
Today, 26th May 2022, HS2 are in the High Court seeking a route-wide injunction, which will effectively criminalise peaceful protest and remove any possibility of independent oversight of a project which has been beset by allegations of wildlife crimes, violent behaviour by staff, and of polluting London’s drinking water.
The court case marks the next step in the Conservative government’s ongoing war against peaceful protest. It undermines democracy and is a serious attack on civil liberties.
This morning, the 16 named defendants to HS2’s
attempted route wide injunction were barred from access to their own 3-day
trial, which started at Birmingham County Court today.
Members of the public who tried to attend and
bear witness to proceedings have likewise been denied access to the court. With
apparently no journalists present either, the hearing, which may grant HS2 an
unprecedented injunction covering a whopping 165-mile corridor of England, and
in places will stretch wider than Wembley Stadium, is effectively taking place in camera, reminiscent of the notorious
secret trials of old.
In a similarly unprecedented attack upon
democracy and the right to protest, if granted the injunction will criminalise
not just protest, but all public presence anywhere along the proposed route of
HS2 backed up with the threat of imprisonment.
injunction will threaten anyone who, knowingly or unknowingly, steps foot on
HS2 land, stops briefly in any of their gateways, walks along any road that
crosses their land, or voices discontent about the project with arrest,
imprisonment, seizure of assets and extortionate fines.
This will not only prevent otherwise entirely
lawful protest, but even the monitoring of HS2 activities by conservation
groups and biodiversity charities, already hugely concerned about the multitude
of wildlife crimes committed by HS2, many of which have been ruled unlawful by
It will also set a terrifying precedent in
terms of the scale of geographic area which may be covered by an injunction,
and used to criminalise lawful democratic protest in the future.
Beyond protesters, it risks criminalising locals, ramblers, and dog walkers who may unknowingly cross into injuncted land. It is a Kafka-esque scenario, in which “persons unknown” could face imprisonment for unwittingly breaking a court order, which they did not know existed, could not know the implications of, and have no idea that they were one of the “persons unknown” targeted by it.
professionally written press releases paid for with our taxes) often
claims to be a “good neighbour” and a positive project for the
nation. However, if this injunction is passed, people will find the footpaths
around them, the access to their own homes and even their own back gardens to
be injuncted – without consultation and without being given the opportunity to
It is a
clear intimidation tactic, attempting to silence anyone who dares to speak out
against HS2, while causing yet more disruption and cruelty to local residents. As
usual with HS2, once you go beyond the PR, there is nothing neighbourly or
positive about it.
This is the latest in a worrying trend of
injunctions being used to prevent protest. The High Court ruled the
Metropolitan Police’s 2019 London-wide ban on Extinction Rebellion protests
unlawful. The Government then used injunctions, covering areas as great as the
whole of the M25, to prohibit Insulate Britain and Just Stop Oil protests. But
this new proposed injunction would utterly dwarf anything previously seen,
marking a frightening day for the erosion of democracy in this country.
This desperate attempt to outlaw peaceful protest follows the acquittal of four protesters in March at High Wycombe Magistrates Court. District Judge Pilling concluded that there was a real risk that breaches of wildlife protection legislation may have occurred, and emphasised her concerns that she was “not impressed by the lack of detail” provided by HS2’s ecologists.
Essentially, the District Judge acknowledged that HS2 were failing in their duty to ensure their work was carried out legally and no wildlife crimes were committed. Therefore, the presence of protesters to witness and record HS2’s work was justified in order to prevent or to witness and report wildlife crimes taking place.
Adam, an HS2 Rebellion spokesperson said, “HS2’s response to this ruling should have been to improve their working procedures to ensure proper wildlife surveys are carried out, our natural habitat is protected in line with legislation, and laws are followed.
“Instead, HS2 have chosen to carry on
regardless, but are now trying to prevent anyone from witnessing their
ongoing crimes by applying for this extreme injunction. This is indicative
of what we have seen from both HS2 over the past few years and also from this
government in recent months. It seems they believe the law does not apply to
“Right now, we are in a crucial moment where environmental collapse is an urgent threat. This is the moment when we all need to be able to use our voices to call for change and progress. But instead, HS2 and the government are seeking to silence our voices and even blind us from witnessing the environmental destruction they are committing.
“This goes beyond just a railway line. This is a
threat to the basic civil liberties of us all. Particularly coming so soon
after the government’s new Policing Bill. If peaceful protest and oversight can
be criminalised, what next? Could Parliament Square be injuncted? Where and how
are we supposed to call for the change that we so urgently need, if all of our
avenues to peacefully protest are being taken from us?”
Emotions running high in court this morning
morning’s court case began with many of those named in the injunction, and
possibly some of those “unnamed”, being unable to enter court.
defendants were not permitted to enter court with electronic devices. This is
very serious, because many defendants had their evidence on their phones and
laptops. Moreover, as the bundles had been submitted electronically, it is
necessary for defendants to be able to use their devices to review specific
contrast, HS2’s solicitors were permitted to begin making their arguments,
while using their laptops and drinking from bottles of coca-cola. But
defendants and members of the public have been prevented from entering with
their devices or drinks. Some defendants were searched three times by security
and others were unable to enter or delayed from entering.
created an entirely unjust and undemocratic situation in which many defendants
have been unable to follow proceedings or check their evidence bundles when HS2
make reference to a specific document or incident.
court case was already unfair in that it involves HS2, funded to the tune of
£200bn+ by the government, and their high-priced team of solicitors seeking an
injunction against ordinary members of the public, who may risk losing their
homes if forced to pay costs. By allowing one side to have access to their
electronic devices, but preventing the other from doing so, the court has
created a discriminatory two-tier situation.
After time-consuming and unnecessarily
repeated security checks, the 16 defendants were finally permitted to watch the
end of the day’s proceedings over a crackling and intermittent video feed, on a
tiny television set, in a room set aside from the court, but were still not
allowed to participate in any way.
One of the defendants, Mark Keir, comments:
“We turned up at court this morning
to defend the massive denial of democracy that is the proposed route-wide
injunction sought by HS2 against protest. But we were denied our right to join
proceedings, to hear the challenge against us, or offer a defence against it.
Instead we were treated like convicted criminals, while none of the
representatives from HS2 were subjected to such ignominy. The judge has already
clearly pinned his colours to the mast.”
member of the public at court said, “Although
the hearing has started, it has started without many of the defendants. People
from all walks of life who are affected by HS2 came here today to have their
voices heard. But instead they have been prevented from being able to enter the
hearing to even listen, never mind to be heard!
“While defendants have been trapped outside or had
to hand over electronic devices containing key evidence, HS2 have been allowed
to commence making arguments – many of which are unfair or unjustified –
without the defendants being present to hear them. Some people were searched
three times before entry and even to leave the room to visit the toilet requires
an additional search.”
Rebellion spokesperson Adam said, “Our
court system is based on the idea of equality and fairness. But today’s discriminatory
proceedings, much like the injunction itself, make a mockery of that idea. It
does make you wonder what it is that HS2, the government and the courts are so
desperate to hide, and why are they so afraid of independent oversight?
“This sort of biased and prejudiced treatment does
not equate to what I thought going to court in a democratic country was
supposed to feel like. Following the recent Policing Bill, this feels like
another dangerous lurch towards authoritarianism.”
This landmark legal hearing for British
democracy continues tomorrow.