Greenpeace UK fined for breach of interdict granted to offshore drilling firm

Lady Wolffe
Lady Wolffe

The UK branch of the environmental organisation Greenpeace has been fined for breach of an interdict granted against them by an offshore drilling company.

Transocean Drilling UK Ltd raised a minute against Greenpeace and persons unknown for breach of an interdict granted in June 2019 after protestors boarded an oil rig while it was in the port limits of the Cromarty Firth Port Authority.

The case was heard in the Outer House of the Court of Session by Lady Wolffe.

Interdicted from boarding

An interim order against both Greenpeace and the persons who boarded the rig was granted on 10 June 2019, which stated that the defenders, or anyone acting on their behalf, were interdicted from boarding the rig or any vessel towing the rig, or approaching within 500 metres of the rig or any towing vessel. The order was served on the following day. Permanent interdict in the same terms was granted on 31 December 2019.

The minuters alleged there had been two breaches of the order. The first was said to have taken place on 14 June 2019, when two other Greenpeace protestors boarded the rig after the original occupiers had been arrested and removed by the police. One of these new protestors was a director of Greenpeace, Andrew McParland, who later pled guilty to a breach of the peace.

A member of Greenpeace’s senior management, John Sauven, was reported to have acknowledged this on the BBC News website, saying: “Our climbers are back on the oil rig and determined to stay for as long as possible.”

The second alleged breach was said to have occurred on 16 June 2019, when a boat owned or chartered by Greenpeace International was used by the first defender to follow the rig while it was being towed towards Vorlich in the North Sea.

No activists succeeded in boarding the rig, but the 500 metre exclusion zone was breached when fast response craft were launched from the boat and protestors exited them to swim in the path of the tow vessel displaying banners. This conduct was again acknowledged by Mr Sauven.

Greenpeace admitted that, by its actions, it had breached the order. However, it averred that the individual protectors had made their own decision to participate based on their own beliefs and thus there was no mens rea to establish contempt of court.

The minuters submitted that in light of statements Greenpeace had put on social media claiming credit for the continued action, it would be untenable for them to argue that they were not intentionally defying the court’s authority.

Greenpeace further submitted that Articles 10 and 11 of the ECHR were engaged and that its conduct was protected by its rights under these articles.

Culpable to a very high degree

In her opinion, Lady Wolffe said of Greenpeace’s actions: “I find that this admitted conduct constituted a deliberate and prolonged breach of the Order and which, in my view, is culpable to a very high degree.”

Examining the relevant case authority, she said: “A breach of the Order is indicative of contempt and has the effect of shifting the onus to the alleged contemnor to demonstrate that it took all reasonable steps to ensure that the Order was obeyed. In none of the affidavits or other materials placed before the Court on behalf of Greenpeace was there any suggestion that Greenpeace did anything that could be construed as taking any steps to ensure compliance, much less ‘all reasonable steps’.”

On the question of whether Greenpeace was answerable for the actions of its activists, she said: “On the information placed before me regarding the planning, provisioning and execution of this action, I have no hesitation in concluding that on the particular facts of this case, Greenpeace are answerable in this Court for contempt of court arising from the breaches of the Order by the activists.”

She continued: “While Andrew McParland purports to take sole responsibility for the first allegation, he was acting with the full knowledge, consent and support of Greenpeace, and in furtherance of their own objectives. In my view, Greenpeace’s knowledge and the active and essential support they provided preclude their argument that the final decision of the individual activist breaks the chain of events Greenpeace set in train or relieves them of ultimate responsibility.”

On both alleged breaches generally, she said: “On no view can it be said that the Greenpeace members and volunteers whose conduct breached the Order acted on a ‘frolic of their own’, or in a manner that was unforeseen, or without the knowledge and consent of Greenpeace. Rather, the converse is true: it is one of the avowed tactics of Greenpeace, in circumstances they deem appropriate, to disrupt, by direct action, the activities of others in furtherance of the causes Greenpeace hold dear.”

On the impact of any ECHR rights that had been engaged, she said: “Transocean were engaged in lawful activities, however much Greenpeace object to them. Greenpeace’s occupation of the Rig on 9 June led Transocean to obtain the Order to protect them against unlawful interference by Greenpeace. By the time the Order was granted, Greenpeace’s point had been made. By then, Greenpeace’s conduct had crossed the line and ceased to fall within the core of the rights which Articles 10 and 11 protect.”

She continued: “I find that the imposition of a sanction in respect of Greenpeace’s contempt of court is necessary in a democratic society in pursuit, first and foremost,of the aim of maintaining the Court’s authority. As I noted above it is fundamental to the rule of law that court orders are obeyed. Greenpeace’s admitted conduct was in wilful disobedience of the Order. I have also found the imposition of a sanction necessary for the protection of the rights and freedom of others. The imposition of a sanction is therefore proportionate in a Convention-relevant sense.”

For these reasons, Lady Wolffe issued a fine to Greenpeace in the amount of £80,000 for both breaches.

© Scottish Legal News Ltd 2021

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