Coronavirus / Fundamental rights / Protest rights

Protest must be allowed to proceed

Posted on 28 Nov 2020

1 minute read

  • Rights groups call on police to retract incorrect statements on right to protest
  • Incorrect interpretation of law threatens our rights, says letter

Liberty and Big Brother Watch have written to the Commander in charge of policing in London today, calling on the force to urgently correct assertions that protests are prohibited.

On Friday 27 November, the Metropolitan Police issued a statement and video warning that protests are not currently allowed under coronavirus regulations.

The warning was aimed at protests planned to start at midday today, 28 November, but relies on an incorrect application of the regulations, the rights groups say.

The warning is “a chilling statement that is wrong in law”, the letter says, and urges the police to “to uphold the law and enable all citizens to exercise their right to protest safely and lawfully within the boundaries of the current regulations.”

Previous versions of coronavirus regulations included explicit exceptions to ensure protests were not treated as prohibited, but this was not included in the rules enforcing the one-month lockdown across England in November.

The incorrect interpretation of the rules by the police demonstrates clearly that the right to safely protest must be outlined in an exemption in the Tiered lockdown regulations due to come into force next week, the groups say.

Liberty’s Interim Director Gracie Bradley said: “We’ve always supported proportionate measures to protect public health, but claims that protest is banned outright are alarming and go too far.

“As the Government takes unprecedented steps to interfere with our rights, sidelines Parliament and attacks the rule of law, undermining protest is another threat to our ability to hold it to account and stand up to power. Protest and dissent are the lifeblood of a healthy democracy, and even more so important in a public emergency.”

Silkie Carlo, Director of Big Brother Watch said: “The Metropolitan Police and the Mayor of London have issued chilling and misleading statements treating all protests as banned. This fails to respect both the current Coronavirus Regulations and the right to protest, which is the bedrock of any democracy. By denying that political gatherings can be organised and attended lawfully with safety measures, police are making inevitable protests less safe and more likely to result in prosecutions. We cannot and will not allow police to trash the rule of law.”

Contact the Liberty press office on 020 7378 3656 / 07973 831 128 or pressoffice@libertyhumanrights.org.uk

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