Human Rights Act, ECHR and Government accountability / Protest rights


Posted on 14 Jun 2023

  • Home Secretary facing legal action for signing off on legislation she had no power to create
  • Parliament voted down specific protest restrictions earlier this year, but Home Secretary has ‘unlawfully sneaked it in by the back door
  • Liberty says new laws give the police ‘almost unlimited’ power to stop protests and must be dropped

Human rights organisation Liberty has started legal action against the Home Secretary Suella Braverman over new anti-protest legislation which it says that she is unlawfully bringing in by the back door despite not having been given the powers to do so by Parliament.

In a pre-action letter sent to the Home Secretary, Liberty said that plans to give the police more powers to impose restrictions on protests that cause ‘more than minor’ disruption are unlawful.

The move – which uses secondary legislation to bring the powers into force – violates the constitutional principle of the separation of powers because the measures have already been rejected by Parliament.

By bringing in these powers, the Government has been accused of breaking the law to give the police ‘almost unlimited’ powers to shut down protests due to the vagueness of the new language.

The Government’s plans to lower the threshold of what constitutes ‘serious disruption’ at a protest were previously voted out of the Public Order Act by Parliament earlier this year (30 January).

Liberty says the Home Secretary has now changed the law entirely in a way that is an overreach of her power – defining ‘serious disruption’ as anything that causes ‘more than minor’ disruption.

A cross party parliamentary group committee has recently said this is the first time the Government has sought to makes changes to the law through secondary legislation that have already been rejected by Parliament when introduced in primary legislation.

Liberty’s letter to the Home Secretary says:  

  • The Secretary of State is seeking to amend the threshold on protest powers set by Parliament by the back door in ways that expand the powers of the police to restrict protest activity.
  • Parliament only gave powers to clarify the law, and not change it entirely. Therefore, Parliament cannot have intended to give the Secretary of State power to amend primary legislation in a way which circumvents the will of Parliament because this would incur on the constitutional principle of the separation of powers.
  • The making of the Serious Disruption Regulations would be unlawful for being an unjustified interference with the principle of Parliamentary sovereignty.
  • The new legislation was not consulted on fairly, as is required by law. The Government only invited in parties it knew would agree with the proposals, such as the police, but did not ask groups who might have had reasonable concerns.

Katy Watts, Lawyer at Liberty, said:  

“We all want to live in a society where our Government is open, transparent and respects the rules. But, as we’ve seen today, the Home Secretary has not abided by any of these.

“The Home Secretary has side-lined Parliament to sneak in new legislation via the back door, despite not having the powers to do so.

“This has been done deliberately in a way which enables the Government to circumvent Parliament – who voted these same proposals down just a few months ago – and is a flagrant breach of the separation of powers that exist in our constitution.

“This is yet another power grab from the Government, as well as the latest in a long line of attacks on our right to protest, making it harder for the public to stand up for what they believe in.

“The wording of the Government’s new law is so vague that anything deemed ‘more than a minor’ disturbance could have restrictions imposed upon it.

“In essence, this gives the police almost unlimited powers to stop any protest the Government doesn’t agree with.

“This not only violates our rights, but the way it’s been done is simply unlawful. This same rule was democratically rejected earlier this year, yet the Home Secretary has gone ahead and introduced it through other means regardless.

“We’ve launched this legal action to ensure this overreach is checked and that the Government is not allowed to put itself above the law to do whatever it wants. It’s really important that the Government respects the law and that today’s decision is reversed immediately.”


Contact the Liberty press office on 07973 831 128 or

Notes to Editors:
1. Liberty’s pre-action letter to the Home Secretary

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