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Your right to peaceful protest: For Activists and Change Advocates

3 min read

The right to protest is protected by the law. These rights are articulated in the European Convention on Human Rights (“ECHR”) as follows:

  • Article 1 ‐ Obligation to respect human rights. States must ensure that everyone has the rights stated in this Convention. 
  • Article 9 ‐ Freedom of thought, conscience and religion. You have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. You have the right to practise your religion at home and in public. 
  • Article 10 ECHR: Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers.
  • Article 11 ECHR: Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.
  • Article 17 ECHR: Nothing in the Convention may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set out in the convention or at their limitation to a greater extent than is provided for in the Convention.

Schedule 1 of the Human Rights Act 1998 incorporates these Articles into UK law and section 6 provides that it is unlawful for a public authority to act in a way which is incompatible with them.

Where the rights are engaged, and Article 17 ECHR does not apply, then any interference with them, by prosecution, must be:

  • prescribed by law
  • necessary, in the terms provided for by Article 10.2 and 11.2 ECHR
  • proportionate

Any decision to charge must be considered in accordance with the Code for Crown Prosecutors.

As it currently stands, there are only two types of offence under UK law:

Arrestable offences: These tend to be focused on more serious crimes and include car theft, burglary, affray etc.

Non-arrestable offences: These are far less serious and include modification of computer material, failing to stop a vehicle when asked to do so and most driving offences.

However, the police can arrest someone if they have a “good reason” to do so or in the following circumstances:

  • To stop a breach of the peace
  • If they think a breach of the peace is about to take place
  • When a court has issued an arrest warrant
  • If a person is committing an arrestable offence
  • If a person is about to commit an arrestable offence
  • If a person is guilty of an arrestable offence

Can police arrest someone for a non-arrestable offence?

Yes, if police have “good reason” to think you have committed a non-arrestable offence, they can arrest you if one of following conditions applies:

  • They don’t know your name and can’t find it out easily.
  • They have good reason to think the name you have provided is false.
  • You fail to give an address which is good enough for a summons to be sent to.
  • They have good reason to think the address you have provided is false

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