Protest - Your Rights

Posted by Sabina Frediani on 16 November 2011

The right to peaceful protest – crucial in any free democracy – is a particularly hot topic right now. With the recent student march and the ongoing Occupy London Stock Exchange demonstration, protest is well and truly in the news.

Now the Government’s austerity measures are beginning to bite the issue is only going to become even more prominent. So it’s the perfect time for Liberty – in co-operation with the NUS – to launch our new detailed guide, Protest – Your Rights. The document, available on our website, includes all the information you might need on organising marches and demonstrations. There are details on notification requirements, issues to be aware of when protesting on private property, an explanation of police powers and tactics and a summary of the relevant criminal offences.

But why is such a guide necessary? Well, protest is a crucial part of political life with a strong British history. It’s played a major part in securing many important social and political changes, including the extension of voting rights. In the past there was no actual right to protest; it was simply tolerated. Now it’s protected by Article 11 of the Human Rights Act. But various recent measures have sought to undermine the right to peaceful protest. Laws intended to combat anti-social behaviour and serious crime are being routinely used against legitimate protesters. Broad anti-terrorism stop and search powers have been used to stifle the right to peacefully demonstrate. And protest in London has been severely restricted by legislation limiting the right to protest around Parliament.

Last year Liberty secured a major victory for the right to protest when the European Court, ruling in our Gillan and Quinton v UK case, confirmed that section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 - the broad police power for stop and search without reasonable suspicion - breached human rights law. We will of course monitor recently enacted legislation governing protests in Parliament Square.

The Protest – Your Rights guide is also being launched to coincide with the upcoming NUS student activism conference. Student Activism 2011 brings together young activists from across the political spectrum to learn, share and inspire a new generation of campaigners. Liberty’s Legal Director James Welch will be speaking on the right to protest at the conference and you can visit Liberty’s stall to find out how to join and support our campaigning work. It takes place this Saturday at Goldsmiths Students’ Union, University of London. For more information on the event visit the Student Activism 2011 hub.