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The Right to Peaceful Protest

By: Garry Crystal - Updated: 17 Nov 2016 | comments*Discuss
Peaceful Protests Demonstrators Police

The right to peaceful protest is protected under the Human Rights act. Britain has a long and distinguished history of using peaceful protests to gain rights and change laws. In recent years the police have been granted additional powers regarding public protests. Protestors should be aware of the rights, restrictions and legal consequences of protesting.

Peaceful Protests

Peaceful protests are used around the world to take a stand on issues that the public find important. These protests range from civil rights marches against discrimination to protests supporting nuclear disarmament. Protests and campaigns can make a very real difference in changing policies and laws. Peaceful protests allow people to come together to stand up against oppression from governments and can prove to be a very effective way of promoting change.

The Convention of Human Rights

The Convention of Human Rights contains a number of articles recognising the right to freedom of expression and thought. It also recognises the right to assembly and for individuals to come together to freely express themselves. The Convention also forbids interference from governments and public bodies such as the police to interfere with these rights. If the government or police do interfere then it is the public’s right to use legal processes such as the courts to enforce their rights.

The Police and Protests

Security measures in Britain are a concern for the government especially with growing fears over terrorist attacks. New criminal laws have been brought in that provides the police with extra powers when it comes to terrorist activities and anti-social behaviour. Peaceful protests in public space are a right but more and more public spaces are being restricted. It is now easier for the police to make the peaceful protest process difficult for demonstrators.

Key Factors to Peaceful Protests

There are a number of rights and regulations that pertain to peaceful protestors. These rights include:

  • The right to assemble and protest on the public highway without permission from the police, council or other authorities.
  • Protestors are not committing any crime as long as they are peaceful and do not use violence or threatening behaviour
  • Protestors can assemble on the public highway as long as they do not completely block rights of way
  • Trespassing on private land without permission is not a criminal offence
  • Protestors can be removed from private land forcibly but should not be arrested unless they have used intimidation or aggravation
  • Peaceful protests are not unlawful providing conduct is kept reasonable

Protest and Police Powers

There are a number of ways that the police will use their powers to keep crowd control during a protest. These can take the form of “stop and search” if they have reasonable suspicion. Recent changes have been made to stop and search laws so that the police can stop and search people in certain circumstances without the need for reasonable suspicion. The police can designate an area where people can be stopped and searched without suspicion under section 44. This process has been used to disrupt demonstrators, and the whole of London has been designated as a stop and search area under section 44.

Breach of the Peace

The police also have the power to arrest people if they feel a breach of the peace has been committed. The police can also stop demonstrators if they suspect that a breach of the peace may be about to occur. The use of anti social behaviour orders and dispersal orders have also been used to either prevent individuals from protesting or to break up protests. It is very important for protestors to use reasonable conduct during protests to ensure that the police are not given any reason to use force to break up a protest.


If demonstrators are protesting in front of a company building or corporation then the company may use an injunction to stop the protest. The injunction is a civil order and there can be criminal penalties for protestors that breach the injunction. Protestors can apply to the court and contest injunctions.

Peaceful protests are not unlawful, and it is the public’s right to assemble and mount a protest in a public place. So long as reasonable conduct and common sense are used during a protest there should be no reason for the police to intervene and disrupt a protest.

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I've done a great deal of work to show the positive side of homeless folk and covered issues around addiction. This has included broadcast documentaries. Anyway, I was arrested after an incident where I supposedly attacked a street beggar. In reality the woman ran across the street and attacked me. I had to defend myself and didn't go over the top in doing so. She kicked and punched me and I have photos of the bruises. She has very little to show in comparison. The CCTV doesn't show the attack unfortunately but it does show her get up from the pavement and run really fast across the road at me. It's fairly obvious she was running in an agitated state. She also admitted to police she'd had an argument with her boyfriend just before the incident. Seems like the police are trying to convict me on flimsy evidence. The charge is ABH. I could go into a lot more detail but thought I'd leave it at that just now.
David - 17-Nov-16 @ 1:05 PM
I was arrested in Febuary on some old warrants that were twenty one years old. Never was arrested my whole life or committed any sort of crimes. My family paid over five thousand dollars to get me out of prison. Never went to court they said I could not go to court due to these warrants where they were written at. Please help me I am at my wits end, I lost my job, have a misdermenor on my record, and they denied my unemployment too. Thanks for your time
lori - 26-Jun-15 @ 11:26 PM
@annie. THis is something that could only be realistically solved in court. You may have the help of the NHBC which clearly has helped already to a certain extent. Keep your fingers crossed that the builder has some sort of liability insurance. Assuming you had a survey carried out when you purchased the property, it may be worth going back to the surveyor's report and ensuring it was done thoroughly.
CivilRightsMovement - 21-Jan-15 @ 12:07 PM
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Annie - 18-Jan-15 @ 11:15 PM
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