Since the easing of the lockdown on 4 July there have been numerous protests and a variety of responses from the police. For most of that time Forces have simply viewed all protests as unlawful gatherings. Over the last few weeks the police have mostly accepted that protests are exempt from the general ban on large gatherings, but have taken different positions on how to comply with the health and safety requirements of the regulations.
This extended blog, by Lochlinn Parker at ITN Solicitors and Owen Greenhall at Garden Court Chambers, aims to help you understand how you can protest, and highlights some of the difficulties you may face. However, while we believe the content is accurate (as of 5pm on 14 September 2020) the law is constantly changing. In any event, the question of whether you will comply with the regulations will be highly specific to the facts of each case, and falling foul of the law may result in a £10,000 fine. If therefore you are organising a protest you are strongly urged to seek independent legal advice.
The latest Coronavirus regulations were published just minutes before they came into force on 14 September 2020. Although there have been substantial changes in general to the regulations, the rules on protests have not changed significantly.
The new ‘rule of six’ means that in general any gathering of over 6 people, in public or private, is against the law. There are a number of ‘exceptions’ to that rule, and in terms of protests in a public place the exception can be found at paragraph 5(3)(i).
We set out the details of the regulations in this extended blog, but in summary, you need to answer yes to the following, before you even consider whether your protest is likely to be lawful:
- Are you organising a protest of over 6 people in an outside public place?
- Are you a ‘political body’?
- Have you completed a thorough risk assessment focussing on Coronavirus?
- Have you taken all other necessary precautions to limit the risk of Coronavirus transmission?
As a protester, rather than organiser, you should not fear getting into trouble by attending a protest. However, if the police announce/inform you that the protest is an ‘unlawful gathering’ then you may risk a fine of £100 (and up to £3,200), if you attend/stay at the scene.
In the extended blog we set out the above summary, but also the details of the regulations and some frequently asked questions. However, as said before, if you are organising a protest there are a number of hurdles to overcome before you will be able to say that your event is actually exempt from the regulations. You are therefore strongly urged to seek independent legal advice. You can contact ITN's Civil Liberties department on 020 3909 8100 or via our online enquiries form.
Dowload the full extended blog here. This blog is intended to be no more than guidance on the current state of law. If you want to plan a protest then you should seek independent legal advice.
If you are a protestor or protest organiser who has been affected by police implementation of the Coronavirus Regulations, please do get in touch. Our Civil Liberties lawyers are more than happy to talk through your options.