Protest / Your right to protest

Your right to protest

Do I have the right to protest? Can the police limit my right to protest?

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.

In 2022,  the Police, Crime, Sentencing & Courts Act 2022 (also called the Policing Act or the PCSC Act) was passed. It has changed the law on protesting, and you can read more about it here. In 2023, the Government introduced the Public Order Act. More information on this Act is available here.

You can also read about Disabled people’s right to protest, as well as practical tips.

The information on this page was correct as of 21 June 2023. It includes changes brought in by the PCSC Act, as well as relevant changes introduced by the Public Order Act 2023 and June 2023 Regulations (subject to a legal challenge from Liberty).

This page sets out the law and guidance which applies in England only.

Your right to protest

Everyone has the right to protest and to organise protests. This right is protected by the European Convention on Human Rights (the ECHR).

Your right to freedom of expression is protected under Article 10 of the ECHR. Your right to freedom of assembly is protected under Article 11.

These Articles have been brought into UK law by the Human Rights Act 1998. It

  • Requires public authorities, like the police, to act in a way that is compatible with your rights. The police also have the legal obligation to help protests take place. A legal obligation is something that the law requires you to do. It’s not optional.
  • Allows you to bring a claim in UK courts when your rights are not respected.

Can my right to protest be restricted?

Articles 10 and 11 are qualified rights. This means that there can be restrictions to you using these rights, but only if:

  • There is a legal basis. This means there must be a law allowing the police to limit your rights. The PCSC Act would count as a legal basis.
  • There is a legitimate aim. This means the limits to your rights must be for a good reason. Articles 10 and 11 both have lists of legitimate aims. The main ones the police use to limit your rights are
    • Preventing crime or disorder
    • Protecting public health, and
    • Protecting other’s rights
  • The limit must be proportionate. This means the limit should only go as far as is necessary  to carry out that legitimate aim. The police must always look at whether how they are policing a protest is proportionate. This is called a proportionality assessment.

The main way the police restrict protests is by imposing conditions. See below for more information on this.

What are the rules for the putting conditions on a protest?

Who can put conditions on a protest?

A senior police officer can put conditions on a stationary protest or protest march. This includes one person protests.

A senior police officer is the Commissioner or Chief Constable, or the most senior officer on the ground.

What conditions can they put on a protest?

The law says that the police officer may impose “such conditions as appear to the officer necessary”. This means the officer has a lot of options depending on what they think is necessary.

The PCSC Act says the officer must reasonably believe that the protest may cause the following

  • serious public disorder
  • serious damage to property
  • serious disruption to the life of the community – more information on what this means can be found here.
  • Noise that is generated by the protest may
  • the purpose of the protest it to intimidate others – to put them off doing something they have a right to do.

Note that the PCSC Act 2022 lets Government ministers make regulations to change the meanings of

  • serious disruption to the life of the community and
  • serious disruption to the activities of an organisation

What conditions can be put on one-person protests?

See here for more information about one-person protests.

Noise conditions

The officer must reasonably believe the noise generated by the protest may

  • lead to serious disruption to the activities of an organisation that is active nearby
  • have a relevant impact on people in the area, or

For a moving one-person protest, the police can

  • put conditions on the route of the protest or
  • ban the protester from entering a public place.

This is the case even if the one-person protest is just intending to move from place to place.

What other rights do I have if the police put conditions on a protest?

The police must always take into account your rights to

  • Freedom of expression (Article 10), and
  • Freedom of assembly (Article 11).

Any conditions they impose before the protest should be communicated. This communication should be from the relevant police force’s Commissioner or Chief Constable. It also should be in writing.

Any conditions they impose during the protest should be communicated to you by the most senior police officer on the ground.

The police also have to follow anti-discrimination laws when they do this, or any other public function. For more information on this, see our pages on discrimination here.

Can the police ban my protest?

Yes. This is also called prohibiting a protest.

Stationary protests:

A Commissioner or Chief Constable can prohibit stationary protests within a 5-mile radius for up to 4 days.

The Home Secretary must agree.

The Commissioner or Chief constable must reasonably believe that a planned protest:

  • is likely to be trespassing, which means being on land without permission, or with limited public access, and
  • may cause either:
    • serious disruption to the life of the community, or
    • significant damage to important land, buildings or monuments.

Protest marches

A Commissioner or Chief Constable can prohibit protest marches in a specific area for up to 3 months.

The Home Secretary must agree.

The Commissioner or Chief constable must reasonably believe that conditions wouldn’t be enough to prevent serious public disorder because of the specific circumstances of that area.

Prohibitions should always be made with your Article 10 and Article 11 rights in mind. They should only happen in exceptional circumstances.

Contact us if the police have prohibited your protest and you want more information.

What if I don’t obey conditions or a prohibition?

If you are a protestor or a protest organiser, it is a criminal offence if

  • you don’t comply with conditions imposed on a stationary protest or protest march
  • you incite others to breach police conditions
  • you go to or organise a prohibited protest march
  • you incite others to go to a prohibited protest march

Our page on the PCSC Act has more information on this, including what the punishments could be. The punishments are often harsher for organisers.

However, you can defend yourself if you can prove that your failure to comply with conditions came from circumstances beyond your control.

What’s Liberty doing about it?

Liberty has long been a supporter of everyone’s right to protest. The Government is trying change the law and make it harder for everyone to protest. Liberty has been fighting this, and you can read our  briefings about the Public Order Bill here.

What are my rights on this?

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

Did you find this content useful?

Help us make our content even better by letting us know whether you found this page useful or not