A Summer of Protests?
As we slowly exit the Covid19 ‘lockdown’ we have seen several protests in major cities. As life moves toward a more ‘normal’ footing and we enter the Summer months, protests may continue.
In this article, we explore some of the legal powers that regulate processions and assemblies. These can be found in the Public Order Act 1986.
Notifying the police in advance
Written notice shall be given in accordance with this section of any proposal to hold a public procession intended:
(a) to demonstrate support for or opposition to the views or actions of any person or body of persons,
(b) to publicise a cause or campaign, or
(c) to mark or commemorate an event,
unless it is not reasonably practicable to give any advance notice of the procession. Notice is not required where the procession is one commonly or customarily held in the police area (or areas) in which it is proposed to be held. Similarly, a funeral procession organised by a funeral director does not require notice.
The notice must specify:
(a) the date when it is intended to hold the procession,
(b) the time when it is intended to start it,
(c) its proposed route, and
(d) the name and address of the person (or of one of the persons) proposing to organise it.
Time limits apply to the service of notices.
Where a public procession is held, each of the persons organising it is guilty of an offence if:
(a) the requirements as to notice have not been satisfied, or
(b) the date when it is held, the time when it starts, or its route, differs from the date, time or route specified in the notice.
The police can impose conditions. If the senior police officer, having regard to the time, place, the circumstances in which it is being held, its route or proposed route, reasonably believes that:
(a) it may result in serious public disorder, serious damage to property or serious disruption to the life of the community, or
(b) the purpose of the persons organising it is the intimidation of others with a view to compelling them not to do an act they have a right to do, or to do an act they have a right not to do,
he may give directions imposing on the persons organising or taking part in the procession. These conditions should be necessary to prevent disorder, damage, disruption or intimidation. This can include conditions on the route or prohibiting entry to any public place specified in the directions.
A person who organises or takes part in a public procession, and knowingly fails to comply with a condition imposed, is guilty of an offence. However, it is a defence for him to prove that the failure arose from circumstances beyond his control.
There are similar powers for assemblies of persons.
If at any time the chief officer of police reasonably believes that, because of particular circumstances existing in any district or part of a district, the powers to impose conditions will not be sufficient to prevent the holding of public processions in that district or part from resulting in serious public disorder, he shall apply to the council of the district for an order prohibiting for such period not exceeding 3 months as may be specified in the application the holding of all public processions (or of any class of public procession so specified) in the district or part concerned.
A person who organises a public procession, the holding of which he knows is prohibited by virtue of an order under this section is guilty of an offence. The same applies to a person taking part in such a procession.
If you need any advice on the holding of mass gatherings, including how best to work with police and local authorities to ensure a successful and safe protest, please get in touch with us.
We can advise on all manner of alleged offences under the Public Order Act and other relevant legislation.
How can we help?
If you need specialist advice in relation to any criminal investigation or prosecution, from the initial investigation through to court proceedings, please get in touch. Call John Howey on 020 7388 1658 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Let us help.
Please note that the information contained in this article was correct at the time of writing. There may have been updates to the law since the article was written, which may affect the information and advice given therein.