Dispute Resolution

Protests appear to be growing by the day. In an age when social media can quickly facilitate and  mobilise hoards of people with any sort of agenda, legitimate or otherwise, what can you do if faced with an unexpected trespass or you anticipate that there is about to be an unwelcome intrusion onto your property?

Call the police

If faced with public disorder or threats or any form of violence, the police must be called. While there is some support for taking self help measures in limited circumstances, the police when called and faced with any sort of tussle could end up lifting both parties to the incident. If a protester ends up with serious injuries, the criminal law may not ride to the rescue – indeed, a landowner who takes matters into their own hands could end up facing criminal prosecution or civil claims. The recent BBC footage of protesters being pulled off the roof of trains in London looked like there was potential for someone to end up in hospital and nobody wants to see that.

Call your lawyer

The courts, in Scotland at least, while of course recognising the balance between rights of assembly and lawful protest, can grant orders to stop a recognised group taking unlawful access to property or indeed to remove them. If a reasonable threat is anticipated, an interim interdict (the equivalent in England being an injunction) to prevent an unlawful act can be granted and served on individuals or a group in advance of entry being taken. Breach of that order can be classed as contempt of court which can result in further sanctions if brought back before the court.

Call your PR team

When a property owner is weighing up whether to wade in like John Wayne or call for police back up or call for Perry Mason, another piece of the jigsaw is to think carefully about reputation issues. The likelihood is that some or all of the response undertaken could play out in the media – that is often what a protest group may want. There may well be very good operational or health and safety reasons which justifiably provoke going for protective court orders yet bad PR is no longer tomorrow’s chip shop paper. On the flip side of the coin, nobody wants to be an easy target. Property owners should get organised across all channels of concern for their business and that may differ depending on what sort of organisation they are.

Be ready

While there is a boxer that has been quoted as saying that everyone has a plan until they are hit in the face, vital time and business disruption can be saved by making sure policies or plans to deal with the risk of unauthorised entry to land or buildings are in place. The plan should span various interlinked issues and ensure clear lines of authority are in place alongside routes to fast advice from professionals.

Conclusion

If you have a plan already, stick with it. Being aware of probable threats, monitoring those and escalating to positive action in advance can work to mitigate business disruption. If you don’t have a plan or don’t understand what you can and can’t do, there has probably never been a more apt time to review your options.

Stephen Goldie

Head of Litigation & Partner at Brodies LLP
Stephen is a partner at Brodies and heads up the Business Disputes and Asset Recovery team. Stephen acts for oil & gas companies, private equity funds, commercial lenders‚ institutional investors, estate owners, retailers and corporate occupiers throughout the country.
Stephen Goldie

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