HS2 win High Court bid to make peaceful protest illegal

A RULING has made it illegal for people to peacefully protest against the construction of the new high speed railway line in Buckinghamshire. HS2 Ltd, the company behind the new high-speed railway line under construction throughout the UK, has today September 20) won a High Court injunction which criminalises those peacefully protesting the project. The route-wide injunction makes it a criminal offence for anyone to enter what the company calls "HS2 land" or delay its operations.

It also criminalises "slow walking in front of vehicles in the vicinity of the HS2 Land". The Berkshire, Buckinghamshire & Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust (BBOWT) has long opposed HS2, not least because of the impact the project will have on its nature reserves. The Wildlife Trust says the ruling threatens people's right to peacefully protest the construction.

Matthew Stanton, Head of Planning and Advocacy for BBOWT, said:
"This injunction restricts people's right to protest peacefully against this environmental disaster. This is an affront to democracy, undermining people's rights to make their voices heard. "HS2 Ltd has continued to fail in its duties to protect nature and, while we do not support illegal protest, people must be allowed to protest against this peacefully, without fear of breaking the law."

The rail company took ownership of parts of the charity's Calvert Jubilee reserve between Bicester and Buckingham in 2020 to facilitate the construction. Security staff have already been accused of being heavy-handed and some BBOWT members have complained to the Trust that they have been intimidated by these staff and have avoided the nature reserves in question as a consequence. Mr Stanton warned that "Emboldening security staff with such an injunction risks making the situation worse".

He also warned that HS2's fencing in some areas is so poor that visitors to some of the Trust's nature reserves were able to freely wander onto "HS2 Land" without even realising it. Should they accidently walk onto HS2 land they could technically find themselves facing criminal proceedings under the terms of the injunction. The injunction also forbids people from obstructing or interfering with the movement of vehicles, equipment or people accessing "HS2 Land".

A person doesn't even need to be on "HS2 Land" to risk being imprisoned. By way of example, should a person choose to stand on a road whilst a HS2 lorry is trying to turn into "HS2 Land", they risk prison. The court order even states that "slow walking in front of vehicles in the vicinity of the HS2 Land" would be illegal.

HS2 says it does not intend to "prohibit lawful protest" but BBOWT says it is hard to see what form of peaceful protest remains if standing still or even walking slowly is made illegal. Mr Stanton concluded: "As a Wildlife Trust we do not support illegal protests, but people are protesting because HS2 Ltd has continued to fail in its duties to protect nature, and people must be able to protest peacefully. The injunction goes too far and will not only stop illegal activities, but makes some forms of peaceful protest illegal as well.

"It seems somewhat ironic that an organisation that has caused its own delays at the cost of billions of pounds wants others who cause delays to be fined or imprisoned.

We are deeply disappointed this injunction has been granted."