Can I attend a protest during the coronavirus lockdown? / Coronavirus / Protest
Can I attend a protest during the Tier 4 National Lockdown in England?
This information below was correct as of 5 February 2021, but is subject to possible changes.
This page sets out the law and guidance which applies in England only.
On 6 January 2021, a new national lockdown was introduced in England by moving the whole country into Tier 4. The new Tier 4 rules prohibit gatherings of more than two people in most circumstances.
In Tiers 1, 2 and 3, the rules contained a specific exception for attending a protest. In Tier 4, however, there is no exception for attending a protest, meaning if you take part in a protest you may be committing a criminal offence.
Isn’t the restriction of certain gatherings a breach of my human rights?
Your right to gather is protected by the European Convention on Human Rights in two ways:
Article 10 protects freedom of expression.
Article 11 protects freedom of assembly and association.
This means that public authorities like police forces have to act in a way that doesn’t breach your rights. They must also take certain steps to help peaceful protests.
However, these rights are “qualified” rights, meaning the Government is allowed to restrict them if it is proportionate and in the public interest.
The coronavirus regulations (formally known as the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (All Tiers) (England) Regulations 2020) have been passed as emergency laws which allow for a restriction on our right to protest in response to the current Coronavirus pandemic.
However, the current rules appear to create a blanket ban on organising and attending protests, which Liberty considers a disproportionate restriction of Article 10 and 11 rights. Whether or not these restrictions are lawful is yet to be determined by a court of law.
The current status of the law is therefore unclear. Whether you decide to attend a protest is up to you, but if you do decide to protest, we have provided some essential information for you to know.
Can I organise a protest?
The Tier 4 rules also make it a criminal offence to organise a gathering of more than 30 people in a public outdoor place, unless certain exceptions apply. Unfortunately, none of the exceptions to the rules on gatherings are likely to apply to protests, although there is a specific exception for picketing.
What if the police stop and question me?
Normally, the police can stop you in a public place and ask for your name, where you are going and what you are doing. This is known as “Stop and Account”. In most circumstances, you don’t have to stay with the officer or answer their questions.
However, some police officers have used refusal to answer questions as a reason to believe that you are breaching coronavirus regulations.
If you are at a protest and a police officer asks you questions, always ask “under what power” they are asking you questions, to check the officer is acting lawfully. Take the officer’s shoulder number and keep a note of what you were told in case you need to refer to it later.
If the police officer is not able to tell you what power they are asking the questions under, you can simply walk away.
If the police officer does tell you which power they are asking you questions under, you can answer “No Comment” and walk away once you have answered. There are certain circumstances where it is an offence not to answer certain questions by the police – see our Stop and account page on this for more information. The rules are slightly different if you are arrested.
Be careful not to deliberately make it more difficult for the police officer to carry out their duties, and never provide false information – unless you have a lawful excuse, these could be seen as the offence of obstructing the police in the course of their duty.
Refusing to provide information to the police is not obstruction, however. It is your legal right.
What if the police officer tells me I am breaking coronavirus regulations?
The police have the power, under the regulations, to tell you to disperse and / or return home if they believe you are gathering in a way which is banned. This includes gathering with more than one person from outside your household in a public outdoor place.
If everyone in your gathering is from the same household, or if one of the other exceptions to the rules on gatherings applies you should state this to the police.
If a police officer tells you that you are breaching coronavirus regulations, they should give you the chance to leave and return home voluntarily first – they should not automatically arrest or fine you.
If you do not leave the gathering or go home voluntarily when directed by the police to do so, the police may arrest or fine you. For more information on this visit our what can the police do? page and our criminal penalties page.
Keep a note of what was said and the shoulder number of the officer. If you believe the officer sent you home when you were not in breach of the coronavirus regulations, you can make a complaint.
For information on Stop and Search, visit our advice page.
For more information on what procedure the police should follow when enforcing coronavirus regulations, you can take a look at the latest College of Policing Guidance. This might help you if you are looking to make a police complaint.
Can I film the police?
Yes, you are allowed to film the police.
However, be aware that sharing pictures and videos on social media may not be advisable, as it may prevent them from being used as key evidence in a criminal trial. This is a good rule to follow whether you are a protester or Legal Observer.
The only exception to filming the police is where the police believe the filming would be used for the purposes of terrorism (section 58A of the Terrorism Act 2000). However, the police’s own Guidelines say this should not be used during normal policing activities, including protests.
What are my rights on this?
Find out more about your rights and how the Human Rights Act protects them
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