Harlan Laboratories UK L & Another v Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty and others  EWHC 3408 (QB) – read judgment
The High Court has granted a medical testing laboratory a final injunction against anti-vivisectioners protesting outside their premises.
Harlan laboratories breed animals for medical and clinical research purposes. The applicants’ harassment claim included assertions that the respondent anti-vivisection groups had verbally abused those entering and leaving its premises, blocked and surrounded vehicles entering and leaving the premises in a threatening manner and trespassed on Harlan’s property. They had also photographed Harlan’s employees and recorded their vehicle registration details. Interim injunctions had been granted restraining, inter alia, where and how often the respondents could demonstrate outside of Harlan’s premises.
The issues in this application were whether the applicants were entitled to summary judgment on their harassment claim and whether the court should grant a permanent injunction pursuant to s.3(3) of the 1997 Protection Against Harassment Act. The applicants also applied for a permanent injunction under section 37 of the Senior Courts Act 1981.
The applications were granted.
The Court’s reasoning
In order to defeat an application for summary judgment, it is sufficient for the defendant to show some “prospect” (i.e. some chance) of success. That prospect must be “real” i.e. not false or fanciful. The proper disposal of an application does not involve the court conducting a mini-trial – if there are issues to be investigated, a full trial should be ordered. In this case, the court found that the respondents had no real prospect of defending the claim. There was overwhelming evidence of a course of conduct against individuals working for the applicant or visiting Harlan’s premises which amounted to harassment within the meaning of 1997 Act. There was ample evidence that the purpose of the harassment was to pressurise Harlan and those associated with it to cease the lawful breeding and supply of animals to laboratories and to pressurise third party contractors (including a specialist waste management company which disposed of the animals’ carcasses) to cease their lawful working relations with Harlan.
In considering the proportionality of granting the proposed permanent injunction, which was almost identical in its terms to the interim injunctions granted earlier in the proceedings, the court had to balance the protestors’ rights to freedom of expression and of peaceful assembly under Articles 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights against the rights of those who were the targets of the protests. By virtue of Article 8, the State is under a positive obligation to protect the right of individuals to respect for their private and home life. Intrusive interference with an employee’s journey to and from work (including photographing and recording of car registrations for the purpose of targeting such individuals in future protests) potentially breaches that right (Niemietz v Germany (1992) 16 EHRR 97; X & Y v Netherlands (1986) 8 EHRR 235). The proposed restrictions on the protestors’ demonstrations at or in the vicinity of Harlan’s premises were proportionate to the legitimate aim of preventing crime and disorder and protecting the rights of employees and visitors. They allowed for protests opposite the premises and for protestors to offer leaflets to those entering or leaving the premises, which enabled the protest to be seen and heard by those entering or leaving the premises, whilst preventing protestors from blocking a car’s path and banging on the car while shouting at the occupant. The conditions placed on the demonstrations were reasonable: noise nuisance was controlled, photography was banned, as were balaclavas and masks, and numbers were limited to 25. By limiting the demonstrations to once a week for three hours, a balance was achieved between the protestors’ rights to protest and the rights of those who wished to travel to and from work without being subjected to a daily ordeal. Finally, in assessing proportionality, Lang J took into account the point that the protestors were at liberty to organise rallies and other protests at locations away from Harlan premises, as well as communicating their message very effectively to a “much wider audience” via the internet and the press.
The antics of the extreme fringe of the animal rights movement sadly contaminate the efforts of the legitimate organisations to try to ameliorate the conditions of laboratory animals and reduce the replication of experiments. There is a glimmer of hope, but it does not come from any prospective change in the law. It is inevitable that one day advances in human cell growth technology will render this depressing industry otiose, wasteful and inefficient. This has has already happened in some areas of research: see this Scientific American report on plans to create 1,500 induced pluripotent stem cell lines from 500 patients to push forward drug discovery in areas such as diabetes, dementia and pain.
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