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.
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Was it an offence to accuse Anna Soubry of being a Nazi whilst she was broadcasting on Sky News?
Potentially, is the answer.
The Public Order Act 1986 contains the most likely candidates for any prosecution, in sections 4, 4A, and 5.
These sections deal with ‘lower level’ public order offences.
What are those provisions?
Section 4 is also known as ‘threatening behaviour’, and sections 4A and 5 are both types of ‘disorderly behaviour.’ Section 4 is the most serious, with section 5 the least serious.
The actions of the protestors during the interview, and then later on the street, might be one of these offences.
Which offence is it?
It will be for the Crown Prosecution Service to decide which to charge, and the Court to determine whether the people are guilty. The two behaviours could be charged together, individually, or not at all.
It needs to be remembered that the prosecution will be considering not only the fact that Miss Soubry may have been affected by the behaviour, but also other members of the public around the parliamentary estate.
What about the shouting?
That seems like it might fall under either section 4A, or section 5.
Section 4A says that a person is guilty of an offence if he uses threatening, abusive, or insulting words or behaviour and causes harassment, alarm or distress.
He also has to intend to cause a person harassment, alarm or distress.
Section 5 says that a person is guilty of an offence if he uses threatening or abusive words or behaviour within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress.
The critical difference is the intention of the person shouting the words.
Section 5 also doesn’t require any harassment, alarm or distress to actually be caused, just to be likely to be caused.
And the behaviour on the street?
That could fall under either of the above, or it might be the more serious section 4.
Section 4 says that a person is guilty of an offence if he uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour towards another person.
He must also have the intention to cause that person to believe unlawful violence will be used against them, or to do it in a situation where that person is likely to think that violence will be used against them regardless of intention.
I keep reading that swearing at the police is not a crime? Why is an MP different?
A Daily Telegraph report of a 2011 case has re-emerged on social media in the last few days. This report claimed that a High Court decision involving a man named Denzel Harvey meant that it was no longer illegal to swear at a police officer. In this case, it was said that Mr Harvey had sworn at officers who wanted to search him. Crucially, the officers did not say that they felt harassed, alarmed or distressed.
In this particular case, the High Court concluded that there was no evidence that these particular officers had been caused harassment, alarm or distress, or were likely to have been. Although the Judge pointed out that police officers hear such words all the time, he went on to say;
This is not to say that such words are incapable of causing police officers to experience alarm, distress,
or harassment. It depends ……….. on the facts.
What if I shouted at Anna Soubry?
Each public order offence is different, and each case is too. This is a general overview of the law.
Over the last few days we have seen definitive opinions on this subject, on both sides of the line.
In our view this rush to judgement is somewhat premature, all public order offences need to be seen in context with the full facts carefully investigated.
If you need specialist advice, then get in touch with John Howey on 020 7388 1658 and let us help. We can advise on a plea, defences and potential sentences in a wide range of circumstances.