PCSC Act / Protest
EXPLAINER: New Regulations re-defining ‘serious disruption to the life of the community’ enhance police powers to restrict your protest
We explain the recent changes to the meaning of ‘serious disruption to the life of the community’ introduced by Government Regulations, which make it much easier for police to impose ‘conditions’ on protests”
Disclaimer: this article is for general information. It’s not intended to be used as legal advice. For information on how to get legal advice, please see our page here or find contact details of law firms with protest law expertise on our bust cards.
The information on this page was correct as of 21 June 2023. The new Regulations, explained below, came into force on 15 June 2023. However, they are subject to a legal challenge by Liberty, and we will update this (and other) pages where necessary.
The Regulations introduced by the Government in June 2023 build on their recent measures to significantly restrict our protest rights through the Police, Crime, Sentencing & Courts (“Policing”) Act 2022 and the Public Order Act 2023. The Regulations introduce changes that were rejected by Parliament during the passing of the Public Order Act 2023.
When can the police impose ‘conditions’ on your protest?
The police can impose any ‘conditions’ (or restrictions) on your protest they think necessary – typically the location/route, size and/or duration – but only for certain specified reasons.
They must reasonably believe that:
- the protest may result in “serious public disorder” / “serious damage to property” / “serious disruption to the life of the community”; or
- the noise generated by the protest may result in “serious disruption to the activities of an organisation” active nearby / have a “relevant [and “significant”] impact on persons in the vicinity”; or
- the purpose of the protest is “intimidation of others”.
The noise generated by a protest could be deemed to be causing “serious disruption to the activities of an organisation” where people connected to the organisation operating in the vicinity may not be “reasonably able, for a prolonged period” to carry out their activities.
The noise generated by a protest could have a “relevant [and “significant”] impact on persons in the vicinity” if it:
- may result in the “intimidation or harassment of persons of reasonable firmness with the characteristics of persons likely to be in the vicinity”; or
- may cause such people to “suffer alarm or distress.”
In determining this, the police must consider:
- the likely number of people who might experience this impact;
- the likely duration; and
- the likely intensity.
More information on your right to protest, and the police’s powers to restrict protests is available here.
The new Regulations and the meaning of ‘serious disruption to the life of the community’
The Regulations introduced by the Government in June 2023 amend the Public Order Act 1986 (previously amended by the Policing Act 2022), specifically in relation to the police’s powers to impose conditions on protests that may cause “serious disruption to the life of the community”.
Before the June 2023 Regulations
“Serious disruption to the life of the community” was defined as including situations where a protest may:
- cause significant delay to the delivery of a time-sensitive product; or
- cause prolonged disruption to the access of essential goods/services.
A product whose value or use to its consumers may be significantly reduced by a delay in it being supplied to them.
Includes access to—
- the supply of money, food, water, energy or fuel;
- a system of communication;
- a place of worship;
- a transport facility;
- an educational institution; or
- healthcare services.
After the June 2023 Regulations
The new Regulations have significantly changed the meaning of “serious disruption to the life of the community”, lowering the threshold considerably for imposing conditions. It now includes any protest that may, “by way of physical obstruction”:
- prevent, or hinder in a way that is more than minor, day-to-day activities (including journeys) [not previously included];
- prevent, or delay in a way that is more than minor, delivery of a time-sensitive product; or
- prevent, or disrupt in a way that is more than minor, access to essential goods/services.
The Regulations also define “community” broadly (where previously it was not defined), as “any group of persons that may be affected” by the protest, “whether or not all or any of those persons live or work in the vicinity”.
In considering whether a protest may cause “serious disruption to the life of the community”, the Regulations require the police to take into account “all relevant disruption” – which is defined as including all disruption:
- that may result from the protest; or
- that may occur regardless of whether the protest happens (including normal traffic congestion).
The police may also take into account “relevant cumulative disruption” – which is defined as cumulative disruption caused by:
- your protest; and
- any other protest that was held / is being held / is to be held in the same area.
|BEFORE the Regulations||AFTER the Regulations|
|Police could impose conditions on protests that may cause significant delay to delivery of a time-sensitive product / prolonged disruption to the access of essential goods or services.||Police can impose conditions on protests that may prevent, or hinder/delay/disrupt in a way that is more than minor, day-to-day activities / delivery of a time-sensitive product / access to essential goods or services.|
|"Community" was undefined.||"'Community" is defined broadly by the Regulations as "any group of persons that may be affected" by the protest, "whether or not all or any of those persons live or work in the vicinity".|
|The law did not explicitly require or allow the police to consider other "relevant" or "cumulative" disruption.||The Regulations require the police to take into account "all relevant disruption" (including all disruption both from the protest and unrelated to it) and allow them to take into account "relevant cumulative disruption" (cumulative disruption caused by your protest and any other protest that was held / is being held / is to be held in the same area).|
More information on your protest rights is available on our Advice and Information Hub, including the following pages:
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