Important post-court case information

Terms of Injunction

From Sheffield City Council:

“Following the Judge’s judgement this week, could you please inform your supporters by social media prior to August 23 2017 that the council will continue to view STAG & protesters’ social media postings for the purpose of gathering evidence in case of breach of the Court Orders. You will recall that the Court specifically forbad Named Defendants and Persons Unknown to:
1. The Defendants must not, from 23.59 hours on 22 August 2017 until 23.59 hours on 25 July 2018:
(i) Enter any safety zone erected around any tree and/or;
(ii) Seek to prevent the erection of any safety zone; and/or
(iii) Remain in any safety zone after it is erected; and/or
(iv) Knowingly leave any vehicle in any safety zone or intentionally place a vehicle in a position so as to prevent the erection of a safety zone; and/or
(v) Encourage, aid, counsel, direct or facilitate anybody else to any of the matters in paragraphs (i) to (iv) above including by posting social media messages
within the area shown edged red on the plan attached to this Order (being, for the avoidance of doubt, the administrative area of the City of Sheffield).
Please note that the Council will also be filming any trespassing into safety zones with a view to submitting evidence in contempt proceedings in Court. No attempt will be made to film people peacefully protesting outside the safety zone.”

This information is being shared so that everybody knows where they stand in terms of ‘Persons Unknown’. 
Try not to be too downhearted about this folks. We ain’t beat yet.


Parking under threatened trees

Some people have been concerned about the implications of the injunction in terms of car parking. Both SCC’s response, from Steve Eccleston (Deputy Director of Legal Services), and the original email are below.

> 
15:54 on 18/8/17

Dear Ms Hammond,

Thank you for your email. Paul said that you would be sending it in. I need to start by saying that I absolutely can’t give you legal advice on this issue. My role is to advise and represent the council. You should speak to your own solicitor if you want specific legal advice. What follows is based on my instruction to try and assist you in your query.

My first thought is to observe that it’s difficult to be completely prescriptive and account for every situation. Also to observe that I’m giving a legal answer. I don’t have details of operational issues, especially where they relate to Amey’s felling work. That’s their business.

The Council has powers to tow cars where Temporary Traffic Regulation Orders are in place and a car is parked in breach of them. The Council has powers to tow in these situations and should do so in my view.

The Court Order, however, is not related to this. The Court has extended protection to what it calls “Safety Zones”. That is the area established to facilitate a safe felling.
If a car is deliberately parked under a tree identified for felling so as to frustrate the work which the High Court has ruled lawful, then that become as a contempt of court. Upon identification, an application can be made to commit the owner of the car to prison for contempt of court. The issue is whether the car is or would be in a safety zone.

The owner of the car would be required to explain their apparent breach of the Order to the Court and, if their explanation was satisfactory, then no Order for Committal would be made. The Court Order makes it clear that the parking must be intentional. It’s very difficult to give an exhaustive list of what factors might come into play but I expect they would include whether there is a pattern of car parking which allows inferences as to intention to be drawn, the identity of the car owner and whether they are known to be part of the Tree Protest Groups etc. I expect that attempts would be made to knock on house doors nearby and see if the owner could be found to move the car.

Given the nature of the Court Orders now in place, I am of the view that it is incumbent on protesters to take personal responsibility for ensuring they comply with its terms. It is their responsibility to comply with the law. For example, if visiting a friend and parking under a tree outside their house then you can ask whether they are aware of any intention to fell. It’s probable that they will know as a resident. The car can then be moved to a place which would be lawful. It you are particularly anxious about the tree you’re thinking of parking under, then you might need to park in another street nearby where there are no trees to be on the safe side.

If it appears that a contempt has been committed then the council will be applying to court. Part of that process will be to give the proposed Defendant an opportunity to provide an explanation for their actions. If that explanation is credible then it is unlikely that Orders would be made.

I am of the view that you don’t, in reality, need to be too concerned with this issue. Every day, tens of thousands of people park their cars in Sheffield. Many of them under trees. Only a relatively small number of trees are being felled and people in the felling areas are notified when this is to happen. I am of the view that people going about their normal, lawful business have nothing to fear.

The High Court has now, after 3 days of argument, given an unambiguous view as to what the law is. The council expects protesters to comply with the law.

Yours Sincerely,
Steve Eccleston,

Assistant Director Legal Services
 Sheffield City Council

>>>>>

Dear Steve,

As per my conversation this morning with Paul Billington, clarification regarding the car parking situation would be appreciated. I explained the question to Paul, and he agreed that it was something that could and should be addressed.

We understand that where parking restrictions have been lawfully advertised as per the temporary TROs that are in place, that anyone parking their vehicle risks having it towed away.

The question relates more to the “opportunistic” attempts to fell trees, whereby crews check whether a tree is accessible and if it is, then they will fell it.
There are many trees listed for felling on many streets in Sheffield, and campaigners will find themselves needing to park on those streets. There is concern that if they unwittingly park a car under a tree that is listed for felling (e.g. if the felling notice that was attached to the tree has fallen off), then they could be found in breach of the injunction:

(iv) Knowingly leave any vehicle in any safety zone or intentionally place a vehicle in a position so as to prevent the erection of a safety zone

Please can you clarify how cases such as this will be handled?

On a personal level, I’m not familiar with every single tree that SCC want to fell in Sheffield. I would expect that I should be able to park under a tree, check that there isn’t a felling notice on it, and leave it at that. However, if that’s the only parking space available on the street at the time, will it still be assumed that I parked there deliberately or will you give me the benefit of the doubt? What level of proof would you expect me to provide?

If you can provide some clarification and, ideally, publish it on the SCC website, it would be appreciated so that people know exactly where they stand.

Many thanks,
Rebecca Hammond

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No Appeal to 15/08/17 Judgement

STAG has learned that the three defendants in Case No: D92LS739, brought by Sheffield City Council, have decided that they will not pursue an appeal against the judgment handed down by Lord Justice Males on 15 August 2017.

It should be noted that the court ruling focuses on a specific point of law in relation to trespass and is not a judgment on our campaign. This was made explicit in the judge’s comments. Sheffield City Council’s approach to street-tree management, notably with regard to the felling of thousands of otherwise healthy street trees on at best debatable grounds, remains open to a number of avenues of challenge and should remain subject to the fullest public scrutiny. We will continue pursue these.

STAG remains committed to lobbying for the adoption in Sheffield of nationally and internationally recognised best practice in the management of highway trees. STAG firmly believes that such measures as the use of flexible paving (not tarmac), the employment of the 14 engineering solutions funded within the Streets Ahead contract, minor relaxation of over-stringent contract specifications, and the acceptance of nationally and internationally recognised approaches to proportionate risk management could still save many valuable street-tree assets.https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=341748142949748&id=234745883649975

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Green Party | Greens condemn High Court ruling against Sheffield tree protesters

The Green Party is deeply disappointed by today’s ruling by the High Court in favour of granting an injunction against tree felling protesters in Sheffield [1].

The injunction was taken out by Sheffield Council against Green Councillor Alison Teal, two other named protestors, and ‘persons unknown’. It is aimed at preventing peaceful protesting against the council’s tree felling programme.

The ruling means that campaigners will not legally be permitted to continue standing up for Sheffield’s trees and local residents by preventing the felling of healthy trees.

Cllr Teal has vowed to continue opposing the council’s plans, despite the injunction, and expressed dismay at the council’s heavy-handed tactics.

https://www.greenparty.org.uk/news/2017/08/15/greens-condemn-high-court-ruling-against-sheffield-tree-protesters/

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A court has ruled that a council’s ‘outrageous’ policy is legal. And it’s so bad even Michael Gove objects to it | The Canary

On Tuesday 15 August, the High Court ruled that members of the public were not allowed to take “direct action” against a council’s “outrageous” policy. And not only does the order fly in the face of democracy, but it even goes against the Tory Environment Secretary Michael Gove’s objections. Which is really saying something…

Our green and pleasant land?

As The Canary previously reported, Sheffield Tree Action Groups (STAG) is campaigning against the felling of trees around Sheffield. The city’s Labour-led council is undertaking a 25-year, £2bn highway maintenance programme which includes the felling of around 6,000 trees. More below. 

https://www.thecanary.co/2017/08/15/court-ruled-councils-outrageous-policy-legal-bad-even-michael-gove-objects/

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Sheffield Council to pursue tree campaigners for damages and £150,000 legal costs – Sheffield Telegraph

Tree campaigners fear they could be left destitute after Sheffield Council confirmed it will pursue them for more than £150,000 in legal costs and damages. Chris Burn reports.
http://www.sheffieldtelegraph.co.uk/news/environment/sheffield-council-to-pursue-tree-campaigners-for-damages-and-150-000-legal-costs-1-8704687

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UPDATE: Sheffield’s Trees

Sheffield Lib Dem Leader, Shaffaq Mohammed made a statement about the High Court’s tree ruling…

Today, the High Court ruled to allow Sheffield City Council to threaten peaceful protesters with possible imprisonment.

Whilst this ruling applies to tree protesters in this case, it sets a deeply worrying precedent for the future. I fear that from now on, each time the Council faces opposition to controversial policies they will be able to silence that opposition with the threat of legal action.

As a liberal I find this deeply uncomfortable. The leader of the Council, Julie Dore, and Cabinet member responsible, Bryan Lodge, may want to play this down but there is no question that tens of thousands of Sheffield’s residents are unhappy with the actions of the Council with regards to tree felling, yet they have pushed on in the face of reasoned opposition.

Only a few years ago I led the campaign to save Sheffield’s community libraries. This involved standing outside Sheffield’s libraries gathering signatures. If something like this was to happen again – would the Council be prepared to take me to court?

Labour party members and the thousands of people that voted Labour a couple of months ago should be questioning if this is what a Labour Council now stands for. Sheffield City Council have taken its own citizens to court, threatening their homes and livelihoods because they don’t agree with their actions.

This is something that is very close to my heart. Rustlings Road was one of the first campaigns I worked on when I was re-elected onto the Council in 2015. Little did I know at the time that it would turn into such a big international story with people all over the world having an opinion. But I want to know how you feel. Please use the form below and let me know what you think. Are you happy with the direction of our city? Where do we go from here? Do you want to protect our right to peaceful protest?

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,

Shaffaq Mohammed
Leader of the Liberal Democrats on Sheffield City Council

http://www.shefflibdems.org.uk/update_sheffields_trees

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Sheffield Council to “accelerate” felling of 500 trees after High Court victory – Yorkshire Post

Around 1,000 trees are to be axed in Sheffield by the end of the year – with 500 already gone since the start of legal action against protesters last month.

Read more at: http://www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/news/sheffield-council-to-accelerate-felling-of-500-trees-after-high-court-victory-1-8704679

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Legal expenses fundraiser

Sheffield City Council have taken steps to issue injunctions against prominent campaigners. This could prove to be expensive…

Read more and donate here.

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