June 6, 2020

Protesting during covid - a guide

Do I generally have the right to protest?

Yes. Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) gives citizens the right to freedom of expression.

Article 11 ECHR gives you the right to freedom of assembly/association. Together, these give you the right to a peaceful protest.

You can enforce the ECHR in UK courts due to the enactment of the Human Rights Act 1998.

Can my right to protest be restricted?

Yes. The right to protest is a qualified right which means that it can be limited in some circumstances. To legally restrict your right to protest there must be; a legal basis for the restriction, a legitimate aim or justification for the restriction, and the restriction must be proportionate. 


Do the Coronavirus Regulations mean my right to protest is restricted?

The short answer, annoyingly, is that it is uncertain.

How the right to protest interacts with the new restrictions on movement which are in the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) Regulations 2020 and the Coronavirus Bill 2020 are uncertain as it has never been seen before. These acts could be a legal basis for the restriction, with a legitimate aim being to protect public health and the proportionality requirement being fulfilled. It seems that your right to protest would be restricted.

On Friday 5th June the Health Secretary Matt Hancock pointed out that only groups of up to 6th may gather outside.

“The reason that it is vital that people stick to the rules this weekend is to protect themselves and their family from this horrific disease.”
"So please for the safety of your loved ones do not attend large gatherings including demonstrations of more than six people."

This message was echoed by the Met police’s deputy police chief Laurence Taylor who said that future mass gatherings would be ‘unlawful’

“We would strongly encourage people not to come out and gather in these large numbers because they are putting themselves and others at risk. And if they do come out, then we would ask them to observe that social distancing, think about those around them.”

How has Covid-19 restricted my movement?

Section 7 of the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) Regulations 2020 has said all gatherings must be ‘reasonably necessary’ and sets out a very limited list of where these are acceptable. Not complying with means you can be fined. The Coronavirus Bill (Sch 21(2)(5)) 2020 gives the Secretary of State, for the purposes of preventing, protecting against, delaying or otherwise controlling the virus, the power to prohibit gatherings in England.

If I do choose to protest, can the police stop and search me?

Yes, but only if they meet a high threshold. If not, then they cannot. You are entitled to answer “no comment” to any casual conversations, bookings and interviews with police officers. They can only search you if they have reasonable grounds to suspect you’re carrying illegal drugs, or a weapon, or stolen property, or something to commit a crime and they must inform you of their name, their station, what they expect to find, reason to search you, why they are legally allowed, and inform you that you can have a record of the search.

Can the police search me without reasonable grounds?

No, unless your situation falls under the very limited circumstances in which they are allowed. It has been approved by a senior officer and it must be suspected that serious violence could take place, or you’re carrying a weapon or have used one, or you’re in a specific location. If the police do not comply with all these conditions, then you may have a claim against them.

Can the police disperse gatherings?

Yes. The police can direct the gathering to disperse, they can also direct any person in the gathering to return to the place where they are living or remove any person gathering to the place they are living.

Can the police use force to disperse gatherings?

Yes, but only if it is reasonable and necessary in order to conduct their duty.

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