SHEFFIELD HIGH COURT, 11 July 2018.
report by Sheldon Hall.
Undramatic scenes punctuated the inaction at today’s tedious non-hearing at Sheffield High Court. Boredom ran high as anti-climax followed breathlessly on anti-climax and non-event piled on non-event before culminating in irresolution.
No arguments and no evidence were submitted in court by Sheffield City Council, as it sought to extend and vary the current injunction against direct action at tree-felling sites. Instead, legal teams representing both the council and tree campaigners spent most of the day huddled in meeting rooms as they tried to thrash out a deal behind closed doors.
The hearing was due to start at 10.00am sharp. The four defendants challenging the new injunction application, along with three other non-signatories, plus SCC’s Paul Billington and Amey’s Darren Butt, were accordingly assembled with their respective legal representatives in court at that time. But nothing happened. Of the judge there was no sign.
Animated conversations broke out among the lawyers as they pointed to laptop screens and scribbled on notepads. Others present gathered in groups or pairs to chat idly while issues were discussed on their behalf. (All this was of course inaudible to public onlookers up in the gallery.) Then the various participants began disappearing to off-stage consultation rooms, until by 11.30am the courtroom was empty apart from its staff.
It was not until 1.00pm that everyone reconvened and Mr Justice Robinson took the bench, only to call a lunch break after ten minutes of procedure. Further waiting around followed the intermission, and it was exactly 4.23pm when the judge was called again. He dropped a strong hint that both parties should agree a ‘consensual compromise’ before the court reconvenes in the morning. And that was it.
Campaign supporters gathered in the public gallery were forced to speculate on what might lie behind SCC’s failure to make its case in open court.
Were the council’s legal advisers unsure of the legitimacy of their bid (available for scrutiny in publicly available documents) to restrict civil liberties to the point where residents would be forced to produce ID to gain admittance to their own homes, and so to stifle peaceful protest that the only valid opposition would take the form of private fantasy?
Or were they seeking to press home their proposed prohibitions on such freedoms as slow walking and to enforce their mania to include ‘natural boundaries’ like walls and railings within the definition of safety zones?
Perhaps we will find out tomorrow. Meanwhile, observers salvaged what stimulation they could from today’s non-event:
**Suspense** as Dave Dillner tried to complete his newspaper crossword.
**Spectacle** as Paul Brooke performed a spontaneous dance for the gallery.
**Colour** from defence counsel Paul Powlesland’s snazzily-patterned socks.
**Intrigue** as Paul Billington and Darren Butt read, apparently for the first time, the ‘We Want You to Complain [about Amey]’ leaflet.
**Shock** at the revelation that SCC’s counsel Katharine Holland QC is being paid £35,000 for a day and a half’s work.
The case continues. It might even get started.