At 9 pm on Monday 14 October, the Metropolitan Police used their powers under section 14 of the Public Order Act 1986 to effectively ban Extinction Rebellion protesters from continuing to assemble within London as part of the Autumn Uprising.
There is widespread concern about the legality of this measure, but in the meantime arrests continue to be made. Read on to find out more about what ‘section 14’ is and the possible consequences of continuing to protest now that the order is in place.
What is section 14?
Section 14 of the Public Order Act 1986 grants the police the power to impose conditions upon public assemblies which govern the time, location and circumstances of such assemblies. They are only permitted to do this if a senior police officer reasonably believes that:
- An assembly may result in serious public disorder, serious damage to property or serious disruption to the life of the community; or
- The purpose of the assembly is to intimidate others into doing or not doing something which they have a legal right to do.
In the case of the Extinction Rebellion protests, the Met Police have stated that they believe the protests have caused serious disruption to the community, following what they say have been ongoing breaches of previous section 14 conditions.
The courts have said that any conditions imposed under s.14 must not amount to a disproportionate interference with the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.
What are the consequences of breaching a section 14 condition?
Wilful breach of a section 14 order is a criminal offence which carries a maximum penalty of a £1000 fine.
There are three different offences under section 14. They are:
- Organising an assembly in breach of a section 14 condition, carrying a maximum penalty of 3 months’ imprisonment and/or a £2500 fine;
- Taking part in an assembly in breach of a section 14 condition, which as noted above carries a maximum penalty of a £1000 fine; and
- Inciting someone else to take part in an assembly which breaches a section 14 condition, for which the maximum penalty is also 3 months’ imprisonment and/or a £2500 fine.
If you are arrested for breach of the section 14 condition imposed by the Met Police yesterday, our Crime team can help. We are available 24 hours a day on 020 3909 8100 and our contact details can be found on the XR bust card.
Is the section 14 condition legal?
For a number of reasons it is very unlikely that the police have issued a lawful order. Currently school children seeking to protest outside their school or an individual protesting outside their home would be in breach of the order despite causing no disruption, much less serious disruption, to the community. That is not what the law was designed to do.
It is hoped that this decision will be swiftly challenged, and that all people arrested after 9pm last night are released without charge, and consider taking action for what may well be an unlawful arrest.
Our Civil Liberties lawyers are more than happy to talk through your options.