Article 11: Right to protest

We have the right to come together with others and peacefully express our views. Authorities must allow us to take part in marches, protests and demonstrations.

Everyone has the right to associate with others and gather together for a common purpose.

Article 11 is fundamental to keeping us free. It lets us protest peacefully, join trade unions and hold the powerful to account.

Freedom of assembly

Article 11 is closely linked to freedom of expression as it applies to protests, marches and demonstrations, counter-demonstrations, press conferences, public and private meetings and more – but it does not protect intentionally violent protest.

People turn to Article 11 when public authorities either stop a demonstration going ahead, take steps in advance to disrupt a demonstration or store personal information on those taking part.

The State can’t interfere with your right to protest just because it disagrees with protesters’ views, because it’s likely to be inconvenient and cause a nuisance or because there might be tension and heated exchange between opposing groups.

Instead it must take reasonable steps to enable you to protest and to protect participants in peaceful demonstrations from disruption by others.

Freedom of association

Everyone is free to associate with others – including forming and joining trade unions or joining with others to pursue common causes and interests. 

The right of association also includes the freedom not to associate with others. Associations aren’t obliged to admit someone if other members decide their membership is not compatible with the group’s aims and interests – as long as this refusal does not come into conflict with equality and discrimination legislation.

When trade unions are involved, exclusions which have negative employment consequences must not be arbitrary or unreasonable.

You also have the right to refuse to join an association. This does not include professional regulatory bodies set up by the State to regulate professions, as these are not considered to fall within the definition of an association.

Limitations

The right to protest and freedom of association can be limited in certain circumstances.

Any limitation must:

  • be covered by law
  • be necessary and proportionate
  • pursue one or more of these aims:
    • the interests of national security or public safety
    • the prevention of disorder or crime
    • the protection of health or morals
    • the protection of others’ rights and freedoms.

It’s not necessarily a breach of protest rights if authorities require you to give notice of plans in advance, as long as notification doesn’t become an obstacle to free assembly.

Lawful restrictions can be placed on the Article 11 rights of members of the Armed Forces, police and others – but those restrictions must be backed up by convincing and compelling reasoning.

People’s Walk for Wildlife

In 2018, TV presenter and conservationist Chris Packham coordinated the People’s Walk for Wildlife – the first demonstration of its kind, aiming to promote awareness of the urgent need to preserve the diversity of our wildlife and natural habitat.

But weeks before the march, the Metropolitan Police told Chris and his team that it would not facilitate the protest by closing the necessary roads in London.

If he wanted to go ahead, Chris would have to arrange this himself. Westminster Council put him in touch with a private company who could do this – and he was quoted £40,000.

The Met’s stance meant, effectively, that the walk couldn’t go ahead unless Chris paid for it.

Chris asked Liberty to act for him – and our threat of legal action backed by the Human Rights Act did the trick. The Met backed down.

But this was the latest in a string of ‘pay to protest’ scandals – and less high-profile demonstrations may not have prompted such a swift u-turn.