For the first time, HS2 Ltd and the Secretary of State used a civil process against “persons unknown” to seek the imprisonment of a peaceful protester, Elliott Cuciurean, for contempt of Court. Yesterday, the Court of Appeal halved Mr Cuciurean’s sentence. However, the fact this case exists at all is yet another threat to our freedom to protest_ .
In October 2020, Mr Cuciurean, 22, was found in contempt of Court for breaching HS2’s anti-trespass injunction at an ancient woodland in Crackley, Warwickshire.
At the time, he was peacefully protecting the irreplaceable ancient woodland and precious wildlife from being destroyed and killed by HS2 during nesting season, in April 2020.
Although HS2 were committing wildlife crimes, Mr Cuciurean was arrested, while HS2 were allowed to continue with their illegal felling and ecocide.
He was initially given a six months sentence, which was suspended for a year.
Yesterday, the Court of Appeal halved his sentence to three months, suspended for a year, on the basis that the Judge had not taken full account of the fact that Elliott was engaged in “civil disobedience”.
The Court of Appeal confirmed the important principle that people involved in civil disobedience must be shown greater clemency by the courts when being sentenced.
This is an important case as it concerns the risk to protestors and local people where large corporations take out injunctions against “persons unknown” to prevent protest.
In this case, the Judge in the High Court accepted that Mr Cuciurean had never personally been handed a copy of any court order.
Persons unknown injunctions are taken out by large corporations and public bodies who are well-financed and use highly-paid commercial lawyers.
It is very difficult for people of ordinary means to contest the making of such orders.
Mr Cuciurean’s solicitor, Nicola Hall of Robert Lizar Solicitors said, “It is extremely concerning that peaceful protestors and local people may find themselves facing frighteningly complex and expensive allegations of breaking a court order, which was made without their knowledge and that has never been passed to them.”
Adam, a spokesperson for HS2 Rebellion, said, “Elliott’s original trial gave us the “Kafka-esque scenario” in which a peaceful protester could face imprisonment for breach of a court order, which they did not know existed and could not have understood the full implications of.
“It is entirely wrong that a non-violent activist should be threatened with prison, simply for trying to protect our natural environment during a climate and ecological emergency.
“In comparison, HS2 and their contractors continue to commit wildlife crimes, ecocide, and brutality against peaceful protesters and locals on a daily basis.
“The judge noted that people involved in civil disobedience must be shown greater leniency when sentenced. This statement stands in stark contrast to the government’s “anti-protest” Police Bill, which will increase the sentence for peaceful protest to up to 10 years.
“We are in a climate and ecological emergency, which was declared by the government after exactly the type of large-scale, peaceful protests they now seek to ban.
“We need to act now on that declaration and invest in a green recovery, not continue with ecocidal megaprojects, such as HS2, which will cost over £1million for every 5 metres of completed track, and has a budget of more than it would cost to run the NHS for a year.
“This case shows the government is already using obscure injunctions and criminal proceedings to limit and punish peaceful, conscientious, civil disobedience. The new Bill will give yet more discretionary powers to the police and Home Secretary to remove our right to protest – be it for women’s rights, racial equality, or environmental justice.
This is another dangerous and frightening step down the slippery slope towards authoritarianism and societal, environmental and ecological collapse.”