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 21 April 2021, but is subject to possible changes.
This page sets out the law and guidance which applies in England only.
Currently, coronavirus regulations prohibit outdoor gatherings of six people or more in public. However, there is an exception in the rules which allows for protests and similar events to have more than six people attend.
You are allowed to gather in a public outdoor place 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.
Therefore, if you attend a protest of more than six people where the organiser has not carried out the required risk assessment, you may be at risk of arrest.
If you are organising a protest, it is important to carry out a risk assessment. For more information on this, see our “How do I 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) (Steps) (England) Regulations 2021) 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 you to disperse and / or return home if they believe you are gathering in a way which is banned. This includes gatherings of more than six people outdoors, or more than two people indoors (unless one of the exceptions applies).
If you are gathering for the purposes of a lawful protest, or everyone in your gathering is from the same household, you should state this to the police.
If a police officer still 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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