Thursday, March 24, 2011


“Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”
Abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass
Our trade unions have a long and distinguished history of using peaceful protest to voice dissent from the excesses of authority, gain rights and change laws. Many of the rights and freedoms we enjoy today were won because people were prepared to protest – from women’s right to vote, to the right to be protected from discrimination and workers’ right to be part of a trade union.  Trade union leaders are planning and mobilising a national anti-cuts protest on 26 March 2011, which is planned to be the largest since the anti-Iraq war demonstration. We urge Hackney residents to attend the march and show solidarity.
Given the rise in police powers in recent years regarding public protests and the increasing encroachment on civil liberties, protestors should be aware of the rights and restrictions of protesting.


1.    The right to freedom of expression.
2.    The right to assemble and protest on the public highway without permission from the police, council or other authorities (different rules apply to the area around parliament square).
3.    Trespass on private land is not a criminal offence unless the trespasser is deterring, disrupting or obstructing someone else carrying out a lawful activity. If so, the trespasser may be guilty of “aggravated trespass”.
4.    Unless you are arrested, or driving and involved in a road traffic accident there is no obligation to give your name and address to an officer on the street unless:
a)    You are reasonably suspected of acting in an “anti-social” manner (protesting peacefully should not be considered “anti-social”)
b)    The police want to issue a summons or Fixed Penalty Notice to you.
5.    Police can stop and search a protestor without suspicion that you have committed an offence or that you are carrying illegal items only if there is a notice in force under s.60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act. Otherwise, the police need to reasonably suspect you of being in possession of illegal items or items for use in illegal acts. 
6.    Officers should inform you (if asked) under what power they are stopping and searching you, the reason for their suspicion, their name and provide a stop and search receipt if you request one within a year of the stop. Always ask why you are being searched – there is no such this as a “routine stop”.
7.    Intrusive surveillance and the retention of photographs of you by the police whilst you are at a demonstration could be a breach of your right to privacy.
8.    Peaceful protestors have the right to photograph police officers providing they are not obstructing the officer.
9.    “Kettling” (which the police refer to as containment), is a police tactic which may deprive you of your liberty. If kettling is used it must be:

a)    Resorted to by the police in good faith;
b)    Be proportionate to the situation in hand; and
c)    Be in place for no longer than necessary.
Also, a recent report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary said about kettling that there should be:
i)    ‘No surprises’ (i.e demonstrators should be made aware if the police are going to kettle a crowd and for how long it will last);
ii)    A release plan to ensure vulnerable people (including children, people with disabilities and pregnant women) are released as soon as possible;
iii)    Easy access to information about the duration of the detention; and
iv)    Clear signposting to basic facilities like toilets and water.

10.    You have the right to make a formal complaint against any officer who acts unlawfully but you must do so within 1 year of the incident.

Shamik Dutta is an experienced civil rights lawyer at Fisher Meredith LLP. He specialises in taking action against the state on behalf of the victims of police and Home Office misconduct. He can be contacted on 0207 091 2785.
He is also Chair of North and East London Anti-Racist Alliance.

No comments:

Post a Comment