How to organise a protest / Protest

How to organise a protest

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.

What is the law?

You have a legal right to organise a protest.

This is protected by the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of association (which are found in Articles 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights).

The police have to act in a way that doesn’t go against this right. So do other public authorities.

The police also have to help a peaceful protest take place.

But if you want to organise one, there are some rules you must follow.

What you must do – coronavirus

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.

These new regulations are in force until 2 December 2020.

The new lockdown rules also 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 protest) 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 here.

How do I know if my organisation is a ‘political body’?

The definition of a ‘political body’ is quite broad.

The regulations state a political body is either:

Activist groups, such as Black Lives Matter UK or Extinction Rebellion, are considered political campaigning organisations. An individual can also be a political campaigning organisation.

A political campaigning organisation is any person that carries out activities which:

  • promote or oppose changes to any law or public policy
  • are intended to affect public support for a political party, or influence voters in any election or referendum.

How do I carry out a risk assessment?

The risk assessment you must carry out is in section 3 of The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.

This risk assessment was designed to be used by employers assessing risks in the workplace. It says that employers must assess workplace health and safety risks to their employees, and self-employed people must assess workplace health and safety risks to themselves, in order to identify the steps they must take to comply with health and safety laws.

We do not yet know how exactly it should be applied to protests and other public gatherings.

How do I take “all reasonable measures” to stop coronavirus from spreading?

The regulations say that you must take into account any guidance the Government has produced on the kind of gathering you want to hold.

The Government’s general guidance on social distancing may be useful.

What you must do – general

If you want to organise a protest march:

  • Usually you have to provide written notice to the local police force at least one week before the march.
  • If you want to protest against something that has only just happened, you don’t need to give a full week – but you should inform the police when you can.
  • When you give notice, include details of the timing and route of the protest – and the name and address of at least one organiser.

BE CAREFUL: If you organise a protest without properly notifying the police, or give the wrong details, you could be committing a criminal offence.

If you want to organise a stationary demonstration:

  • A stationary demonstration is when two or more people stay in one place. For example, a protest on the pavement outside a local authority.
  • You don’t need to tell the police about this kind of demo, so it’s up to you whether you want to. Some groups choose to tell the police in advance so that if the police do attend, their presence is not a surprise. Others choose not to, as protesting is a right which does not require police permission. Bear in mind that if you do give advance notice to the police, it may give them time to impose conditions on the protest.

If you want to organise a protest on private land:

Can the police put conditions on my protest?

Yes, the police can put conditions on a protest if they think it could cause:

  • serious public disorder
  • serious damage to property
  • serious disruption to the life of the community.

You want to organise a march to protest against the closure of a local library.

But your route would go past a primary school when parents and guardians would be picking up their children.

The police might say you have to go at a different time or use a different route to minimise disruption.

They can also impose conditions on your protest if they think that:

  • its purpose is to intimidate other people and stop them doing something they have the right to do.

When the police are deciding what conditions they might put in place, they have to take into account your rights to freedom of expression and freedom of association.

Any restrictions or requirements they impose should be in writing. This should be from a Chief Constable, Commissioner or Assistant Chief Constable.

If the police want to impose any restrictions or requirements during the protest, they should come from the most senior police officer there. These should be clearly communicated to the organiser or the people taking part.

Can the police ban my protest?

If the police think there is high risk of serious public disorder they might use their powers to restrict your protest. They can also ask the local authority to put a temporary ban in place to stop the protest from happening. Any ban has to be approved by the Home Secretary.

Both of these decisions have to be made with your rights to freedom of expression and freedom of association in mind. They should only happen in exceptional circumstances.

Get in touch with us if this has happened to you and you want help with what to do next.

Can the police make me pay for them to attend my protest?

Sometimes, the police will suggest that it’s your responsibility to cover the cost of policing the protest. This is wrong.

The police have powers to charge people for policing events like football matches or street festivals. But they have to make sure members of the public can protest safely and freely. They should not ask you to cover the cost.

Get in touch with us if this has happened to you and you want help with what to do next.

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If the police have tried to ban your protest or make you pay for them to attend – and you want help with what to do next – get in touch with us

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Find out more about your rights and how the Human Rights Act protects them

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