Can I attend a protest during the coronavirus lockdown? / Coronavirus / Protest

Can I attend a protest during the November lockdown?

This information below was correct as of 13 November 2020, but is subject to possible changes.

Unless otherwise stated, this page sets out the law and guidance which applies in England only.

On 5 November 2020, a new national lockdown was introduced in England. The new coronavirus regulations prohibit gatherings of more than two people in most circumstances.

The previous rules contained a specific exception for attending a protest. In the new rules, however, there is no exception for attending a protest, meaning if you take part in a protest you may potentially 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) (No 4) (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.

Liberty is asking the Government to clarify the current rules on protest, as they appear to be blanket ban on attending protests. We are asking the Government to amend these rules so that limitations on people’s right to protest are proportionate to the public health risk.

Can I organise a protest during the November lockdown?

The new lockdown rules make it a criminal offence to organise a gathering of more than 30 people in a public outdoor place, unless certain exceptions apply.

You are, however, allowed to organise a gathering of more than 30 people in a public outdoor place, if you are:

  •  a business, a charity, a benevolent or philanthropic institution, a public body, or a political body

On the following conditions:

  • you (the organiser of the gathering) have carried out a risk assessment which meets the requirements of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, and
  • you have taken all reasonable steps to limit the risk of transmission of coronavirus, in line with the risk assessment and with any relevant government guidance.

This would include protests. You can therefore organise a protest if you meet the above conditions.

If you organise a gathering without meeting these conditions, you may risk being fined or arrested. The penalty for organising an illegal gathering is a fine of £10,000.

However, as noted above, during the current lockdown it is not lawful to attend a protest with more than two people. Therefore, although you may be able to organise one, the current rules mean that no more than two people are allowed to attend. Take this into consideration if planning a protest.

Given the uncertainty and inconsistency of these rules, Liberty is asking the Government for clarification as described above.

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 space.

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. 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.

For more advice about your protest rights, contact us on our Get Advice page.

Find out what to do if you are arrested at a protest during the coronavirus lockdown.

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