Michael Fry and Michael Brendan Brett have been successful in a multi-handed committal application against seven anti-HS2 activists. The Claimants were complimented on their “studious” compliance with the onerous procedural requirements on a committal application.
The committal application was heard over 4 days by Mr Justice Ritchie at the High Court in Birmingham. Ritchie J found all seven of the anti-HS2 activists to be in contempt of court for breaches of an interim injunction granted to HS2 Ltd and the Secretary of State for Transport. The injunction was granted by Mr Justice Cotter on 11 April 2022 and restrained trespass, nuisance, and tunnelling on a parcel of land in Staffordshire. Four of the contemnors had dug highly dangerous tunnels beneath the land, which they occupied for between 39 and 46 days.
The judge imposed sanctions as follows:
- Three of the tunnel contemnors have been committed to prison, the longest sentence being 332 days. One of these sentences was immediate, and two suspended on terms which restrained the activists from future incursions onto HS2 land. All three also received fines of up to £3,000. The sanction for the fourth tunnel contemnor’s contempt will be determined at a hearing on 22 September 2022.
- One contemnor who was a trespasser on the land and not in the tunnel received an immediate committal to prison of 100 days and a fine of £1,500.
Costs of over £12,000 were awarded to HS2 in respect of each of the sanctioned contemnors.
The two remaining activists gave personal undertakings against future incursions onto HS2 land and interference with the project for two years in advance of the hearing. The judge accepted those undertakings, and they avoided further sanction.
The case provides a salutary example of the seriousness with which the courts will treat deliberate flouting of injunctions, the harm to the public purse when those breaches cause publicly-funded bodies financial loss, and risk and danger, especially potential harm to rescuers and the emergency services, caused by direct action protest.
The judge was explicit as to the benefit of early, full admissions of contempt; sincere and non-qualified apologies; and demonstrating contrition: for example, by making public posts on social media apologising for actions in contempt of court.
Mr Justice Ritchie adopted a helpful approach to sanction, both in terms of calculating appropriate custodial sentences and giving due credit to contemnors for early admissions of liability and insight into the effects of their actions. Of immediate note was the judge’s formulation of the starting position of 7 days imprisonment for every day underground in tunnels.