Can I attend a protest during the coronavirus lockdown? / Coronavirus / Protest
Can I attend a protest during the coronavirus lockdown?
This information below was correct as of 14 September 2020, but is subject to possible changes.
Unless otherwise stated, this page sets out the law and guidance which applies in England only.
As of 14 September 2020, coronavirus regulations prohibit gatherings of more than six people in most circumstances. However, there is now an exception in the rules for attending a protest.
You are allowed to gather in a group of more than six people for the purposes of protest as long as:
- the gathering has been organised by a business, a charity, a benevolent or philanthropic institution, a public body, or a political body
- the organiser of the protest has carried out a risk assessment which meets the requirements of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, and
- the organiser has taken all reasonable steps to limit the risk of transmission of coronavirus, in line with the risk assessment and with any relevant government guidance.
Therefore, if you attend a protest of more than six people where the organiser has not carried out the required risk assessment, you may risk being fined or arrested.
Additionally, it is now a criminal offence to organise a protest with more than 30 participants unless the requirements described above are met. The penalty for organising an illegal gathering like this is a fine of £10,000.
Therefore, if you are organising a protest, it is very important to carry out a risk assessment. For more information on this, see our How to organise a protest page.
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 2) (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.
Whether you decide to attend a protest is up to you, but if you decide to protest, we have provided some essential information for you 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 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 a group of more than six people from different households to disperse and / or return home. However, there is an exception for protests which meet the requirements described above.
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. If you are attending a larger protest which has been organised in line with the requirements described above, you should state this to the police.
If you can, try to follow social distancing guidance and keep two metres apart from people from a different household, to keep yourself and others safe. But remember – this is only guidance and not law. The police cannot enforce this rule and if you break it you will not commit a criminal offence.
If a police officer tells you that you are breaching coronavirus regulations (for example, because they believe the protest was not organised in line with the rules), 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.
Please note: we are currently updating these bust cards and will provide new bust cards containing the latest changes to the law very soon.
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
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