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Fracking - Criminal Proceedings & Sentencing for Protestors

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On 31st October the first anti-fracking protesters to be sentenced to imprisonment had their manifestly excessive custodial sentences quashed by the Court of Appeal and replaced with conditional discharges.

Following a 4 week trial at Preston Crown Court the protesters were convicted of causing a public nuisance for participating in a peaceful protest after they blocked access to a fracking site in Lancashire for nearly 100 hours. Their release has been described as significant victory for environmental campaigners and the right to protest.

What is public nuisance?

Public nuisance is not defined by legislation but is stated to be conduct which renders the enjoyment of life and property uncomfortable. On conviction at the Crown Court the maximum sentence is at the discretion of the Court. There are no formal sentencing guidelines in relation to this offence. The Court therefore turns to previous case law to determine the level of the sentence.

What sentence can be given for public nuisance?

In the case of the Lancashire fracking protestors the Court of Appeal held that the appropriate sentence would have been a community order with a requirement of a significant amount of unpaid work; however, given that by the hearing date the protesters had served the equivalent of a 6 week prison sentence the Court concluded that the only appropriate sentence was a conditional discharge for 2 years.

What other criminal offences/sentences can protestors face?

In this case the protesters were charged with causing a public nuisance however, there are a variety of other offences that the Police and Crown Prosecution Service might consider:-

  • Intimidation or annoyance by violence or otherwise – s.241 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 – Maximum sentence of 6 months imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine
  • Obstructing the highway contrary to s.137(1) of the Highways Act 1980 – Maximum sentence of a fine not exceeding £1000
  • Aggravated trespass – s.68 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 – Maximum sentence of 3 months imprisonment and/or a fine not exceeding £2500

How can we help?

At Emery Johnson Astills we believe in the right to peaceful protest under the Human Rights Act. We have a wealth of experience in dealing with public nuisance and public order offences in the Magistrates’ and Crown Court and are alert to changes in legislation, sentencing guidelines and precedents set by the higher courts. We have successfully defended cases involving the right to protest and challenged the legality of dispersal notices for protest camps. For further information and advice in relation to the potential criminal offences that you could face by protesting please contact the criminal defence team in Leicester on 0116 2554855, or in Loughborough on 01509 610312.