Protest rights

Everyone has the right to protest – not just those who can pay for it

Posted by Emma Norton on 19 Sep 2018

The People’s Walk for Wildlife – led by wildlife TV presenter and conservationist Chris Packham – is due to take place this weekend on Saturday 22 September.

Walkers of all ages will gather in Hyde Park at 10am and march to Whitehall – where they will hand A Peoples Manifesto for Wildlife in to 10 Downing Street.

But the first demonstration of its kind, aimed at promoting awareness of the urgent need to preserve the diversity of our wildlife and natural habitat, was faced with a huge hurdle.

A few weeks ago, the event organiser contacted Liberty. The Metropolitan Police had told them it would not facilitate the march by closing the roads.

If he wanted the walk to go ahead, Chris would have to arrange it himself. Westminster Council put him in touch with a private company that would do this for him. He was quoted £40,000.

The Met’s stance meant, effectively, that the event would not be able to go ahead unless Chris paid for it.In recent years we have seen an increasing tendency of forces refusing to police protests.

We have sympathy with hard-pressed forces who struggle to provide the officers to do all the things they need to do.

But making people pay to protest is not the answer.

Freedom of expression and the right to assemble are fundamental human rights, protected by the Human Rights Act.

Together they safeguard our right to protest. Everybody has that right – not just those who can fork out thousands of pounds to pay for it.

Public protest has been the catalyst for so many moments of positive change, from women’s right to vote to equal pay. It’s the foundation of our free democracy.

And with all the challenges facing our country – environmental, political or both – the right to protest is needed now more than ever.

Chris asked Liberty to act for him – and our threat of legal action backed by the Human Rights Act seems to have done the trick. The walk will go ahead – this time.

But this is the latest in a string of high-profile ‘pay to protest’ scandals.  Less high-profile demonstrations may not be met with such a swift back-down.

If you’re organising a protest and are told you need to pay, don’t accept it. If you want advice and help in a similar situation, contact Liberty.

The Human Rights Act turns 20 later in 2018 – sign up for Liberty updates to find out how you can help us celebrate.

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