Apr 08, 2006
Five Co Mayo men will not be further punished at this stage following the High Court's finding that they were in contempt of court orders restraining interference with a Shell high-pressure pipeline near their homes in Co Mayo, the president of the High Court has decided.
Mr Justice Joseph Finnegan, said that because the men – known as the Rossport Five – had already spent 94 days in prison last year because they breached court orders restraining interference with the pipeline linked to the Corrib gas field development, he did not intend imposing a further penalty on them.
However, he awarded costs of the contempt proceedings against them to Shell E&P Ireland. He also warned that, should the men “again physically prevent Shell E&P exercising its rights” and if a further injunction was obtained against them, the court had jurisdiction to impose a penalty of a further fixed term of imprisonment of “an appropriate duration”.
He rejected arguments that the court could not of its own volition impose a term of imprisonment for contempt of its orders and found such a power to impose imprisonment or a fine was inherent in the court.
The men had made it clear they were determined to act in defiance of laws presumed constitutional, decisions of the executive and a court order, the judge said.
It would be wrong for the court “to shirk its responsibility” to the Oireachtas and executive “or to tolerate a continuing determination on the part of the contemners to persevere by the threat of violence to obstruct the development of the Rossport gas field”.
Mr Justice Finnegan said it was appropriate for the court to take into account the consequences of the men's actions, including losses for Shell, the loss of employment in the Rossport area and the loss to the local and national economy.
However, in all the circumstances, the fact the men had each spent 94 days in prison contained a sufficient punitive element and he did not propose imposing on them a further penalty.
After the judge directed the men to pay the costs incurred by Shell E&P in bringing the contempt proceedings, Frank Callanan SC, for some of the men, objected and said Shell E&P, which was not represented yesterday, had not applied for those costs. Mr Justice Finnegan said he was making the costs order in any event.
He further indicated that the men's continuing refusal to purge their contempt would be a factor which would influence the court's discretion in relation to making other costs orders in the forthcoming hearing of a challenge to the Corrib gas field development.
Mr Justice Finnegan was delivering a reserved judgment, in a courtroom packed with supporters of the five men, on the issue of whether they should be further punished arising from the contempt proceedings. The men's lawyers had argued against any further punishment.
Before handing down his judgment, the judge sought assurances from the five men – brothers Philip and Vincent McGrath, Willie Corduff, Micheal O Seighin and James Brendan Philbin – that there would be no protests in the court building. The court building was “not designed for PR stunts and protests”.
The case arose after Shell secured an injunction in April 2005 restraining interference with pipeline works. The company said that if certain works were not under way by June 1st, 2005, it would be liable for 25,000 a day in standby costs and, if works had to be deferred to 2006, it would incur a remobilisation fee of 2.5 million.
In June 2005, Shell issued a motion for attachment and committal of the five for contempt of the April 4th court order. On June 29th, 2005, the five men were jailed until they purged their contempt. The men refused to do so but they were released from prison in September 2005 after Shell applied to have the April injunction discharged.
ShellNews.net: LATEST NEWS ON DR JOHN HUONG: We understand that EIGHT Royal Dutch Shell group companies are pressing ahead with contempt proceedings against Shell whistleblower Dr John Huong asking for him to be imprisoned of fined because of postings made on ShellNews.net by Alfred Donovan and/or his son John Donovan.
Irish Times: No further sanctions against Shell protesters (Also update on Dr John Huong)