One of the country's largest livestock exporters failed yesterday to obtain a High Court injunction banning a group of 13 protesters from blocking trucks entering the Essex port of Brightlingsea.
If granted, the injunction would have meant that if they broke the law, the demonstrators would be in contempt of court.
At the moment, their only fear is arrest and conviction for minor offences.
Roger Mills and his company, Live Sheep Traders (Ireland), argued that the protesters were interfering with his trade and he wanted an injunction preventing them from doing so. He was also seeking costs and damages of more than pounds 500,000. Such costs would have bankrupted most of the protesters.
Jonathan Crystal, acting for Mr Mills and his company, argued that the defendants were involved in a conspiracy to injure his business.
Mr Crystal said that the sheer number of arrests, 583 to date, plus the existence of Bale - Brightlingsea Against Live Exports - and fliers distributed on its behalf amounted to a conspiracy.
He claimed that Bale was trying "to clothe itself in respectability", but added: "It's increasingly difficult to maintain that with all the violence and disorder that has occurred."
He claimed that there have been numerous unlawful acts such as obstruction, criminal damage and assaults. Mr Crystal argued that the defendants must take at least part of the responsibility for them.
Mr Justice Forbes, the judge, countered that there was no evidence that any of them had been involved in physical assaults or criminal damage.
Mr Crystal again claimed that the defendants were involved in breaking the law and were inciting others to do the same. He claimed that the fliers distributed by Bale were an attempt to whip up emotion and incite others to break the law.
Mr Justice Forbes said that there were occasions where unlawful activities gained the admiration of law-abiding citizens.
"What Mahatma Gandhi did was certainly against the law ... but most people approved of what he did."
Richard Barton, acting for 13 of the 14 defendants, argued that granting an injunction would appear to be "an assault on the fundamental right to protest".
Martin Westgate, acting for Andrew Abbot, the 14th defendant, argued that he had a moral right and a duty to hinder the live export trade.
The judge granted an injunction ordering Mr Abbot not to interfere with the livestock trade through Brightlingsea, but he refused to grant injunctions against the other 13 defendants.Reuse content