Attending a protest / Police powers / What if I'm arrested?
What if I’m arrested at a protest?
This information 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.
This page sets out the law and guidance which is applicable in England only.
Previous Coronavirus Regulations banned outdoor gatherings of more than 30 people in a public place. However, there was an exception for protests, as long as the organiser had followed the requirements for organising a protest.
On 19 July 2021, the UK Government lifted the remaining restrictions on outdoor gatherings, so the protest exception is no longer relevant. Protest organisers no longer need to conduct a risk assessment or fulfil certain organisation requirements.
You therefore cannot be lawfully arrested for attending a protest on the basis of breaching the coronavirus regulations.
However, there are other legal requirements for organising a protest, and other potential risks of attending. Police officers have also been observed using arrest as a threat to disperse or get details from protesters.
What if I’m arrested?
The police must only arrest you if they have good reason to think that you have committed a crime AND they have good reason to think that arresting you is necessary – see our what if I’m arrested? page for further information.
Before arresting you, the police officer must tell you that you are being arrested. They must also tell you the offence you are being arrested for and why it is necessary to arrest you.
You must also be told the name or identifying shoulder number of the arresting officer, and what police station you are being taken to. Sometimes at large protests the police officers do not always immediately know which station they will take you to.
The police officer may search you. This usually takes the form of a ‘pat down’. Police officers are only allowed to conduct strip searches if they have a good reason to believe you might be hiding items such as weapons or drugs on your person, and this must be done out of public view.
This should be done by an officer of the same gender as you – if you are transgender or non-binary, you can tell the police officer which gender officer you would prefer to search you and they should respect it. See our article here for more information on your rights as a trans/non-binary person if you’re arrested.
What are my rights once I am arrested?
If you are arrested at a protest, there are some key things to remember:
- The police have the power to demand your name and address if they have reason to believe you have acted in an ‘anti-social’ manner (causing, or likely to cause, ‘harassment, alarm or distress.’) It is an oﬀence to refuse to provide your details in these circumstances.
- Apart from this, you are under no legal obligation to provide your personal details to the police.
- This includes when you are ʻbooked in’ or processed at the police station after an arrest.
Withholding your personal details
Many protesters refuse to provide their personal details until they absolutely have to. They do this to stop the police gaining information about them or the groups they work in.
Refusing to provide your details doesn’t necessarily mean that the police are more likely to hold you at the police station. Usually there is a 24-hour limit on detaining someone without charge before you must be released.
Should I tell the police anything?
- Answer “No Comment” to the police at all times until you’ve had legal advice from a solicitor with special knowledge about protests
- Don’t chat with oﬃcers while in a police car or van – or when being ʻbooked in’ at the police station
- You can say “No Comment” at any time during your arrest and questioning. We advise you to do this until you’ve spoken to a solicitor
You currently have no legal obligation to disclose your immigration status or nationality to the police, even when you are arrested. However, the police may decide to run checks on your immigration status if they suspect you are not a British citizen. It is therefore advisable to have arrangements in place before attending a protest (including regular check-in processes with friends and contact details for legal support written on your arm), to mitigate this risk.
Liberty has, in collaboration with Migrants Organise, produced protest bust cards for migrant protesters. They have been translated into nine other languages and are available here.
What if I have a medical problem?
- Tell the police as soon as you’re arrested
- Tell them if you are on medication that you need to take
- Tell them if you have a history of mental health problems or if you are having mental health issues at the time
- Tell them if you want support from an ‘appropriate adult’
Remember: the police are responsible for your health and safety while you are in their custody. See more about your rights as a disabled or vulnerable person when arrested here.
Do you need support from an ‘appropriate adult’?
If you are regarded as ‘vulnerable’ for any reason, like having a history of mental health problems, or you are under the age of 18, you have the right to ask for an ‘appropriate adult’ to support you while at the police station.
The ‘appropriate adult’ can be someone you know and trust. For example, a friend or family member – provided that they weren’t involved in the alleged oﬀence you were arrested for.
More information about appropriate adults is available here.
Getting a solicitor
You should talk to a solicitor before:
- Being interviewed
- Accepting a caution
- Deciding how to plead to a charge
Police stations have independent solicitors on duty to advise people who have been arrested. But they might not be experts on protest law.
Before you go on a protest find a solicitor who is an expert on protest law and keep a note of their name and phone number.
Their services will be free, so don’t worry that a solicitor you call will cost money.
The only difference is that a protest solicitor may be able to give you more specialist advice on the offence(s) you have been arrested for.
If you have to go to court, we also advise you to have a solicitor. You might want to argue for your beliefs yourself – but court hearings are complicated and a solicitor can help you navigate the process.
There are a number of solicitors offering protest advice during this time. The following solicitors firms have offered free 24/7 help to protesters:
- Commons: 020 3865 5403
- ITN Solicitors: 020 3909 8100
- Hodge Jones Allen (HJA): 0844 848 0222
- Bindmans: 020 7305 5638
Do not accept a caution without first taking legal advice from a protest solicitor.
A ‘caution’ is an admission of guilt and stays on your criminal record. There are rules that the police must follow when giving a caution, so you should speak to a solicitor about this as soon as you can.
You have the right to:
- have someone informed of your arrest;
- an interpreter if English isn’t your first language; and
- an appropriate adult if you’re under 18 or a vulnerable person.
For other protest support, you can contact:
- Green & Black Cross Protest Support Line on 07946541511 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. GBC facilitates arrestee support by sending volunteers to police stations to offer legal and practical support to those who are arrested at protests.
If you feel you have been mistreated by the police due to your race or ethnicity, you can make a complaint, or for legal help contact Black Protest Legal Support by emailing email@example.com.
More information on your protest rights and police powers to restrict protests is available on our Advice and Information Hub, including the following pages:
What are my rights on this?
Find out more about your rights and how the Human Rights Act protects them
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