This page updated 2/1/20
The most relevant aspect of the law is that relating to outside gatherings.
New coronovirus regulations came into force on 6th January 2021, amending those published in December 2020, after the November lockdown. (The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (All Tiers) (England) Regulations 2020) which introduced the addition of Tier 4.
The January 2021 changes consisted mainly of a tightening up of the restrictions for Tier 4, and putting all regions into Tier 4. The restrictions on protest remain as they had been in December 2020, as outlined below. Picketing remains an exception to the restrictions. This means currently only Tier4 regulations are in force.
It is illegal to go to a gathering of more than 2 people outdoors for any reason. Unlike other tiers for Tier 4 there are no exemptions for protest but there IS an exception for picketing.
If regulations are broken one may be issued a fixed penalty notice – £200 for a first offence. Refusal to pay may result in being charged with breaking the covid regulations.
Tiers 1, 2 and 3
For Tier 1, Tier 2 and Tier 3 the regulations allow people to meet outdoors in gatherings of no more than 6 people but there is an exception – people may gather for the purpose of protest, and there seems to be no limit specified on how many people may gather at a protest. The protest must have been organised by a political body, (or a business, a charitable, benevolent or philanthropic institution, or a public body). There is also an exception for picketing, that was won by the Unite union. See below for more details.
The fixed penalty notice for breaking the regulations is £200 for a first offence.
There are conditions and penalties for those involved in organising a protest detailed below
In essence this is the same as the regulations that were in force until November 4th.
Police and State actions
If the police “consider” that the rules on gatherings are being broken they have the power to:
Direct the gathering to disperse
Direct participants to return home
Use “reasonable force” to take a participant back to their home.
If the police consider that you have broken the rules they also have the power to:
Either – Issue you a Fixed Penalty Notice (£200 for a first offence, rising if you have received previous fines up to a maximum of £6400)
Or – Arrest you on suspicion of having broken the Coronavirus regulations. If successfully convicted under this legislation, the maximum penalty is a fine.
A Fixed Penalty Notice is not a criminal record, and will not show up on DBS checks, whereas a conviction could do.
So far, these powers have been used very variably at protests. Netpol’s Policing the Corona State blog has more details of how they have been used, and you can also contact Netpol with your experiences.
Specific rules around protest
For Tiers 1-3 there are specific exemptions around protests, with some rules:
- Gatherings are exempted under the regulations where a gathering is for the sake of protest and has been organised by, among other things, a political body, and the organiser of the gathering takes the required precautions, then the gatherings are permissible. ‘political body’ is defined as a person doing activities which promote changes in law or government policy.
- all reasonable measures have been taken by the organiser to limit the risk of transmission of coronavirus, taking into account the risk assessment and any relevant government guidance.
- a risk assessment has been undertaken. It is difficult to summarise but, in short, it requires a ‘suitable and sufficient’ assessment of the health risks to participants and to those affected by their conduct.
- if the gathering is considered unlawful then there is a fixed penalty notice of £10,000 for anyone who is involved in organising a gathering of more than 30 people (this could include, as an example, performing or speaking at an event).
The so-called ‘lockdown regulations’ (The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020) initially came into force on 26th March 2020. They were amended a number of times, and then replaced by a new regime, called The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (No. 2) (England) Regulations 2020, which came into force on 4 July 2020 and were a bit more permissive with regard to gatherings.
The (No.2) lockdown regulations were subject to numerous amendments too, and there were lots of local regulations which ran alongside the general English regulations, which related to areas with higher infection rates.
The (No.2) lockdown regulations were then effectively replaced by a third set of regulations, organised into three tiers: Medium, High and Very High. They were actually three different sets of regulations which came into force on 14 October 2020. The legislation in effect until 4th November 2020 was very similar to the Tier 1-3 legislation detailed above.
These Restrictive rules were in effect for the November lockdown, coronovirus regulations number 4, restricting gatherings to 2 people at the most.
A set of regulations, organised into four tiers Medium, High, Very High and Stay at Home came into force, as an amendment (The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (All Tiers and Obligations of Undertakings) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2020) of The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (All Tiers) (England) Regulations 2020, on 20th December 2020. On the 6th January 2021, an amendment was made to the regulations that placed the whole of England into Tier 4.
There is a useful article on the ITN solicitors’ news blog which goes into some detail about the pre 5/11 covid legislation for protest gatherings.
There is an article at Freedom News about the covid legislation coming into effect on 5th November 2020.
These regulations are untested in the courts as yet. Care should always be taken to look at the relevant regulations in place when planning any action, as the regulations change frequently.
If you have been arrested or issued a Fixed Penalty Notice at a demonstration since 26th March 2020, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 07946541511