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Actions Against the Police Blog

Your rights & protests

In the wake of a successful ‘Brexit’ campaign and as 2016 draws to a close, the subject of protests and demonstrations as well as the legal issues that may arise from these are fairly topical. 

Here we’ve considered these issues in the context of police involvement and set out your rights when protesting or attending marches.

Traditionally, the right to protest is protected by Articles 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights.  Article 10 stipulates that everyone has the right to freedom of expression (including expressing ideas and/or opinions or receiving and/or imparting information) and Article 11 stipulates that everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly.  Unsurprisingly, these rights are not absolute and may be restricted if exercising these rights jeopardises the following:

  1. National security
  2. Public safety
  3. Public health
  4. The prevention of crime
  5. The protection of the rights and freedom of others 

Those organising protests or public processions are required by law to notify the police of the event.  As you might expect, the police attend these events to maintain public order and prevent any offences from being committed. 

There are a number of ways that you may end up interacting with police officers whilst attending a demonstration or protest and these are outlined below:-

  1. Arrest
  2. Kettling/Containment
  3. Photographs/recordings
  4. Stop and Account/Stop and Search

There will be a separate article following on each of these possible techniques used by the police during a demonstration or protest. 

1.Arrest: Under s24 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE), a police officer has the power to arrest someone one if that person is involved or suspected of being involved in the commission of a criminal offence.   This includes the arrest of individuals who are about to commit an offence or are in the act of committing an offence.  

This suspicion must be supported by reasonable and objective grounds and based on known facts and information that indicates that the person arrested is involved in the offence. 

The police officer must also have reasonable grounds for believing that an arrest is necessary. 

What is considered necessary may include the following:-

  1. To establish the name and/or address of a person (see Stop & Account powers at Part 4 )
  2. To prevent that person from injuring themselves or others
  3. To prevent that person causing damage to property
  4. To prevent that person committing an offence against public decency or obstructing a highway
  5. To allow the prompt and effective investigation of an offence

More information regarding arrests and police officers powers, obligations and duties regarding this are contained within Code G of the PACE. 

Typical, offences which an individual may be arrested for include the following-

  1. Affray, violent disorder or rioting
  2. Assault
  3. Assault of a police officer / obstructing a police officer in the execution of their duty
  4. Breach of the Peace / Public Order offences
  5. Criminal damage

If you are arrested then is important that you seek legal advice at the earliest opportunity.  You can contact our Criminal department on 0203 440 8000 or   for further advice and assistance in the event that you are arrested.



2.Kettling (also known as Containment):  This is a practice whereby police officers surround demonstrators to restrict them to a certain area.  The number of people contained can range between a dozen or so to hundreds of individuals.  The entire process is generally unpleasant and uncomfortable, particularly if individuals are held for a long period of time.  People are usually contained within a kettle until the police feel it is appropriate to release them.  There have also been incidents whereby instead of releasing individuals after kettling, officers have arrested everyone instead.   This approach is generally considered to be incorrect as police officers ought to apply the same principles as outlined at Part 1 (Arrest)  when it comes to arresting individuals contained in a kettle.  Officers should not indiscriminately arrest everyone once they are released from a kettle. 


Kettling should not be used as a means of preventing or discouraging protests or marches and should be used only if it is considered necessary to protect public safety and prevent disorder.   Usually there will be officers (known as Containment Managers) responsible for allowing those who have simply been caught up in the kettle or those who are unwell and vulnerable to be released however there is no guarantee that those who are vulnerable or inadvertently caught up in the kettle will be released earlier than others.


Strictly speaking, the police only have the authority to kettle for as long as is necessary to protect public safety and prevent disorder.  Once this risk has subsided, the police no longer have the power to detain people in the kettle and those detained ought to be released either en masse or in a controlled fashion (unless there grounds to arrest individuals). 


3.Photographs/recordings:  The police are entitled to take photographs of individuals at protests or capture video recordings however they cannot force you to pose for a photograph, use force to obtain a photograph or force you to be filmed.  You also have the right to take photographs of the police officers or film them regardless of what officers tell you.  

It is important to be aware that the police may use kettling as an opportunity to obtain information about you and say that they will only release you if you provide your details to them or are photographed.  The Courts have found this practice to be unlawful and the police should not conduct themselves in this way.  


4.Stop and Account: The police may stop you and ask for your name and address.  Generally speaking, it is an offence for someone not to provide their name and address to a police officer if that officer believes that is person acting in a way that is considered anti-social.  Failure to comply with this request may result in arrest and carries a fine of up to £1,000.  If a police officer does arrest you on this basis, they must make it clear they are relying on this power under s50 of the Police Reform Act 2002.


If peacefully protesting, the expectation is that a police officer would not be justified in using this power.  If objections are raised on this basis and you refuse to provide the information requested, there still remains a risk of arrest and subsequent prosecution in any event.

Stop and Search: A police office must have grounds to stop and search an individual.  More information on Stop and Searches and your rights is outlined here.


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