Can I attend a protest during the coronavirus lockdown? / Coronavirus / Protest
Can I attend a protest during the coronavirus lockdown?
This information was correct as of 5 June 2020, but is subject to possible changes.
Unless otherwise stated, this page sets out the law and guidance which is applicable in England only.
The current coronavirus regulations prohibit gatherings of six people or more in public. Although there are exceptions to this in the regulations – for example for schools – there is currently no exception for protests. So if you attend a protest you may be at risk of arrest.
Is the ban against certain gatherings a breach of my human rights?
Your right to protest 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) (England) Regulations 2020) – are emergency laws which allow our right to protest to be restricted in response to the current Coronavirus pandemic.
However, whether these restrictions on the right to protest are lawful, in light of the Government’s lifting of restrictions in other areas, is yet to be determined by a court of law.
This means the current status of the law is unclear. Whether you attend a protest is up to you – but if you do decide to protest, here is what you need to know.
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 a note of the officer’s shoulder number and what you are 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 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 things 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 a group of more than six people from different households to disperse and / or return home.
If you are in gathered in a group of less than six people, or if everyone in your gathering is from the same household, you should state this to the police. Make sure you are adhering to social distancing guidance and keeping two metres apart from people from a different household, to keep yourself and others safe.
If a police officer tells you that you are breaching coronavirus regulations, they should give you the chance to leave and return home voluntarily. If you do not go home voluntarily, 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.
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.
Download Bust Cards
Bust cards are resources you can take to protests with you. They provide key guidance and contact details of solicitors who can help you if you are arrested.
Save this guidance and share with everyone attending protests.
Know your rights. Know the risks. Stay safe.
For your phone
Download these two images to your phone, and send to friends you know attending protests.
To print out
You may want to print out a bust card if you are not taking your phone, or would like to take printed versions for any other reason.
What are my rights on this?
Find out more about your rights and how the Human Rights Act protects them
Did you find this content useful?
Help us make our content even better by letting us know whether you found this page useful or not