How to organise a protest / Protest
How to organise a protest
Find out more about your rights and legal obligations when organising a protest, and the powers the police have to restrict protests.
This information below was correct as of 9 May 2022, but is subject to possible changes. We are in the process of preparing informational materials on the legal implications of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022. Some relevant changes have been noted below.
This page sets out the law and guidance which applies in England only.
Your right to protest
You have a legal right to organise a protest. Your right to protest (and organise protests) is protected by Article 10 (freedom of expression) and Article 11 (freedom of assembly) of the European Convention on Human Rights (‘ECHR’).
Under the Human Rights Act 1998 (‘HRA’), the police – and other public authorities – have to act in a way that is compatible with your rights. More information on how the HRA 1998 works is available here. The police also have a legal obligation to facilitate peaceful protests.
However, these rights are what are known as “qualified” rights, which means they can be lawfully restricted by the police, but only where it it:
- in accordance with the law (e.g. their powers under the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022);
- for a legitimate aim (e.g. the prevention of crime/disorder, the protection of public health, or the protection of the rights of others); and
- proportionate (no less restrictions measures available).
The Coronavirus pandemic saw the police use the ‘legitimate aim’ of protecting public health as a basis for restricting or prohibiting protests, but with the lifting of restrictions, police will rely on other legitimate aims (e.g. preventing crime/disorder or protecting the rights of others).
It is necessary for the police to undertake a proportionality assessment for each and every protest, when deciding its policing response.
From 19 July 2021, all restrictions on large social gatherings were lifted. There are no longer any required precautions such as conducting a risk assessment, wearing face masks, and socially distancing, and no limit to the number of people attending a protest.
Legal obligations of protest organisers
You do not need permission from the police to protest.
As noted above, the police have a legal obligation – stemming from Articles 10 and 11 of the ECHR (and the HRA 1998) to facilitate peaceful protests.
Instead, you sometimes have a legal obligation to notify the police that you are organising a protest and police have powers to impose ‘conditions’ or prohibit protests altogether in circumstances.
If you are organising a protest march:
You normally have a legal obligation to provide written notice to the local police force at least six days before the march, unless it is “not reasonably practicable” – e.g. the protest march is an immediate response to a particular development or event.
When you provide 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 are organising a stationary protest:
A stationary demonstration is when two or more people protest in one place, and do not march anywhere. For example, a protest on the pavement outside a local authority or in a public square. Note that the Police, Crime, Sentencing & Courts Act 2022 redefines protests as including those involving only one person.
Where there is no legal requirement to notify the police, you may decide not to notify them. This could make it less likely that the police will impose conditions or prohibit your march in advance, and may avoid or reduce police presence at the protest.
If you want to organise a protest on private land:
Can the police impose conditions on my protest?
Yes, the police can impose conditions on your protest that they consider necessary – stationary protests: location, duration and/or size / protet marches: route or prohibit it from entering a specified public place – if they reasonably believe it may 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 direct that you have to go at a different time or use a different route to minimise disruption.
The police can also impose conditions on your protest if they reasonably believe 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 assembly under Articles 10 and 11 of the ECHR. Such conditions must therefore be within their legal powers and a proportionate means of achieving certain legitimate aims, as indicated above.
Any conditions they impose prior to the protest should be communicated in writing from the relevant police force’s Commissioner or Chief Constable.
If the police want to impose any restrictions or requirements during the protest, they should come from the most senior police officer on the ground. These should be clearly communicated to the organiser or the people taking part.
Note that it is a criminal offence to knowingly fail to comply with conditions imposed by the police. However, under the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022, it will be a criminal offence to fail to comply with conditions you ought to have known about. It is therefore important for organisers, wherever possible, to communicate any conditions to protesters to protect them from criminal liability.
Can the police prohibit my protest?
Yes. A Commissioner or Chief Constable can prohibit a stationary protest if:
- the protest is trespassing; and
- may cause “serious disruption to the life of the community” or “significant damage” to important land, buildings or monuments.
A Commissioner or Chief Constable can prohibit protest marches in a specific area for up to 3 months (by asking the local council to make an order, with approval from the Home Secretary) if:
- they reasonably believe that – because of particular circumstances in that area – conditions would be insufficient to prevent serious disorder/damage/disruption.
Both of these decisions have to be made with your Article 10 and Article 11 rights 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.
What if I fail to comply with conditions or a prohibition?
An organiser or individual protester who knowingly fails to comply with conditions imposed by the police on a static protest may be arrested. However, it can be a defence to argue that your failure to comply “arose from circumstances beyond [your] control.”
Note that the Police, Crime, Sentencing & Courts Act 2022 changes this to “ought to know” – a lower threshold for criminal liability – and increases the punishment from up to 3 months’ imprisonment and/or a fine to up to 51 weeks imprisonment and/or a heavier fine.
An organiser or individual protester who knowingly organises/attends/incited others to attend a prohibited static protest will be committing a criminal offence.
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 incorrect.
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 of policing your protest.
The police (or local authority) may also indicate that you are required to get public liability insurance for your protest. This is also incorrect.
Get in touch with us if this has happened to you and you want help with what to do next.
How can I challenge unlawful policing of a protest?
If you think the police have acted unlawfully in the way that they have policed your protest, you may decide to make a complaint. More information on police complaints is available here.
You may also be able to use judicial review and/or the Human Rights Act 1998 to challenge the actions or decisions of the police with regard to your protest. More information on how you can use judicial review and the Human Rights Act 1998 when the police act unlawfully and violate your human rights is available here.
If you need legal representation, either because you have been arrested at a protest or you are considering bringing a civil claim against the police, you can find more information on how to find a lawyer here. Contact details of lawyers with protest law expertise are available on our bust cards (see below).
Legal Observers & Other Protest Support
When organising a protest, it is advisable to arrange for legal observers to be present to monitor the police and provide legal information and support to protesters.
Legal observers are independent, legally-trained volunteers who monitor and record police conduct and provide legal information and support to organisers and protesters. You can approach them for information or support. They are easily recognisable at protests, wearing hi vis jackets with “LEGAL OBSERVER” written across the back.
We collaboratively produce protest bust cards with Black Protest Legal Support for Black and other racialised protesters, which are available here. We have also recently collaboratively produced protest bust cards for migrants with Migrants Organise, which have been translated into nine other languages, available here.
BLACK PROTEST LEGAL SUPPORT
Black Protest Legal Support (‘BPLS’) facilitates legal observers for protests that are organised by and/or involve the participation of Black and other racialised protesters. They also have a large network of lawyers who are committed to providing legal representation to Black and other racialised organisers/protesters who are arrested during protests.
Email: email@example.com / coordinatorBPLS@protonmail.com
Twitter & Instagram: @blkprotestlegal
GREEN & BLACK CROSS
Green & Black Cross (‘GBC’) is an independent grassroots project that provides legal observers for protests, as well as delivering protest rights training. They also facilitate arrestee support, where volunteers attend police stations to support arrested protesters or organisers. They have produced guides on protest rights, available via their website.
Telephone (Protest Support Line): 07946 541 511
Twitter & Instagram: @GBCLegal
GREEN & BLACK CROSS MANCHESTER
Green & Black Cross Manchester facilitates legal observers and arrestee support for protests in the Manchester area.
Telephone (Protest Support Line): 07761 911 121
BRISTOL DEFENDANT SOLIDARITY
Bristol Defendant Solidarity provides support (at police stations and court) for arrested protesters.
Telephone (via ‘Signal’ app): 07510 283 424
What are my rights on this?
Find out more about your rights and how the Human Rights Act protects them
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