Out-Law Analysis 2 min. read

How positive action can prevent protestor disruption at major sporting and entertainment events

Owners and occupiers of a range of sport and entertainment venues face a potential increase in disruption to their businesses this summer.

Major events have become a target for protest by activist organisations aiming to disrupt events and even force their abandonment or cancellation. UK events affected so far in 2023 include the Grand National at Aintree Racecourse, the Premiership Rugby Final at Twickenham, the World Snooker Championship at the Crucible, and the Chelsea Flower Show.

This trend is set to continue, particularly given the well-organised and firmly-held views of those seeking to disrupt.

The Derby at Epsom

Preserving events and ensuring those who attend or participate can do so safely has been of paramount importance to event organisers. As a recent case showed, owners and occupiers can take proactive and decisive action to mitigate the impact of intended disruption by activist organisations, while also recognising principles of lawful peaceful protest.

The Derby at Epsom is a longstanding and historic horse race that regularly attracts crowds of 100,000 people. In 2023 the race garnered significant publicity after protestors made clear that they planned to disrupt the event. It was thought that up to 1,000 protestors planned to invade the racetrack.

The Jockey Club, racing’s largest commercial operator and employer, initially offered protestors a designated area at the event to peacefully protest and share their views. But, while the offer was accepted, protesting groups made clear that they still planned to disrupt the event itself.

Following this, the Jockey Club instructed Pinsent Masons to consider strategies to mitigate risk and seek to ensure a safe event. Following expert advice, the Jockey Club decided to apply to the High Court for an injunction in order to protect the safety of horses, jockeys, and racegoers.

The injunction, an order of the court, was aimed at preventing activists from doing unauthorised acts that would disrupt The Derby Festival. Anyone found to have breached an injunction can be held to be in contempt of court, which can lead to imprisonment or a fine. Injunctions also enable the parties that gain them to have control over enforcing any breach.

Injunctions against ‘persons unknown’

An injunction can be obtained against specific named people, or against ‘persons unknown’. It has been possible to gain an injunction against persons unknown since 2017, when an order was granted in favour of Manchester City FC and City Football Group when they were taking action against parkour climbers at their stadiums.

Granting an injunction of this type requires the court to balance competing legal rights. For any sporting or entertainment event, this will involve consideration of the rights of freedom of expression and peaceful assembly under The European Convention on Human Rights, as well as the right of owners and occupiers of venues to prevent unlawful and disruptive trespassing and to preserve the rights of attendees to be allowed to enjoy the event uninterrupted.

The Jockey Club’s application for an injunction, heard before judge Sir Anthony Mann, sought to prohibit named individuals and persons unknown from gaining entry to the racetrack and carrying out other acts to disrupt the races. Such acts included intentionally causing objects to enter the racetrack, entering the parade ring, entering or remaining on the horses’ route to the parade ring and to the racetrack without authorisation, and intentionally endangering any person at the racecourse during The Derby Festival. The court determined that the application should be granted in its entirety.

In the event, despite protesters saying they wanted to flood the event with protestors, only one person was able to gain access, in breach of the injunction. Due to the injunction, and a planned and co-ordinated effort from the team at Epsom, The Derby went ahead as planned without substantial disruption, and the horses, spectators, participants and viewing audience were able to enjoy the occasion while lawful peaceful protest took place in the designated area.

Given the significant risk posed to events, obtaining an injunction is one way that owners and occupiers of sport and entertainment venues can manage the risk of potential disruption and ensure the safety of both participants and spectators while also preserving the value of the event to communities, sponsors, broadcasters and other partners.

We are processing your request. \n Thank you for your patience. An error occurred. This could be due to inactivity on the page - please try again.