Liberate | 30.10.2004 14:06 | Animal Liberation
Lynn Sawyer, a midwife and animal rights activist has been landed with a bill for over £200,000 and faces losing her home. Her crime? Not defending a court case!
This comes from an injunction under terms of the Protection from Harassment Act against Lynn and other people and groups to stop them protesting against the vivisectors Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS). Because Lynn did not attend the court case in person to defend herself, the judge automatically imposed a “default judgement” against her. As a result she is liable to pay the court costs if sued by HLS – she also has to pick up court costs of anybody else named on the injunction!
She has been landed with a legal bill for £205,551.23 by Lawson-Cruttenden Solicitors who are acting on behalf of HLS. This bunch of greedy solicitors specialise in the Harassment Act and charge ridiculous amounts of money - they charge £400 an hour for solicitors fees, this includes time when they aren’t even working. For example, for attending one court hearing, they charged £500 for 1 hour 15 minutes for travel and waiting - £500 for going to and from work and hanging about doing fuck all! That’s more than most people earn in a 40 hour week! (A total of £7316.67 was charged by the solicitors for travel and waiting). They also charge £100 per hour for an office junior, even though they probably pay them £50 a day. When you count up numerous court appearances charging £400 an hour, plus interest, it comes to a nearly a quarter of a million pounds.
This extortionate bill she has been given is for everyone named on the injunction – twelve people and groups in total. She isn’t just being billed for the costs of one twelfth of the case – which you might expect to be fair and reasonable. No, the liability is deemed “joint and several” meaning that they don’t need to divide up the costs between the defendants – they can just pursue one person. But, it gets even worse, Lynn didn’t contest the injunction – she just accepted that it would limit her right to protest against HLS. Other people decided to fight the injunction in court and are taking it to full trial. The totally bonkers situation, which shows that the legal system is completely deranged and has nothing to do with justice, is that Lynn is also liable to pay the costs of these cases! You did read that right – something that Lynn had absolutely nothing to do with (the appeal hearing) and she has to foot the bill for!
Lynn now faces losing her home, as she may be forced to sell it, to cover the costs incurred by Huntingdon Life Sciences’ attempts to curb peaceful, lawful protest not only by her but also other people.
The Protection from Harassment Act was originally touted in the media as being designed to protect women from stalkers, but it was so widely drafted (with the help of Lawson-Cruttenden Solicitors, who boast about helping to draft the bill) that companies have been able to use it to harass protesters! In fact the first use of the Act was against animal rights protesters (see SchNEWS 126).
The Act is used to silence and stifle a whole load of peaceful law abiding activities by creating exclusion zones around premises. The way the Act is drafted means that all a solicitor needs to do is present some “evidence” before a judge – without any of the defendants being present and they usually grant the injunction. At a later date the defendants may attend court and fight the injunction, but the injunction has already been granted and it appears that it’s up to the defendants to overturn the injunction rather than the company to prove the injunction case. The injunction in the case of HLS was also made against the Animal Liberation Front, an organisation that doesn’t really exist! The original injunction placed against the people referred to a number of actions, such as criminal damage to employees’ properties, which have never been proved to be linked to anyone, but have been reported on the SHAC website. The Harassment Act is using guilt by association as a legal means for stifling protest.
Lynn has lost all faith in the legal process: “I believe that in the current climate there is no point in even trying to campaign legally as the goal posts move on a daily basis and that the most peaceful, innocuous gesture is interpreted as violent and threatening by the law… Writing letters has met with similar accusations, as an elderly Quaker gentleman who wrote the most excruciatingly polite letters to drug companies was threatened with arrest and intimidated by the police.”
So what has Lynn actually done that is so threatening to HLS that it can be termed harassment? She has climbed a fence and, according to the solicitor presenting the case “sat on top of it for 20 minutes before being coaxed down by the police”. Other actions have included trespass, abstracting a fraction of a pence of electricity by making a phone call in HLS’s offices (she sent a cheque to HLS to reimburse them for the cost, but this was refused) and drinking a bottle of beer from the HLS hospitality suite in Brighton. She also blocked the A1 with a tripod and was attacked by an off duty police officer, sustaining a smashed femur, a severe laceration to her face and the loss of over a litre of blood. Surgeons spent five hours putting her face and leg back together. Of this she says “The really perverse, sick and twisted thing is that HLS through their lawyer Timothy Lawson-Cruttenden are actually claiming that an incident in which I was the subject of a vicious unprovoked attack which nearly cost me my life caused them, a multinational corporation, ‘harassment’!”
Lynn says “I envisage a situation where bailiffs are ‘harassed’ by protesters trying to save trees, a worker is ‘harassed’ by a striker holding up a banner, the meat industry is ‘harassed’ by someone campaigning for veganism, a homophobe is ‘harassed’ by a gay rights demo and a travel company claim ‘harassment’ after a visitation by the Disabled Action Network.”