The most relevant aspect of the law is that relating to outside gatherings.
It is currently prohibited under the Coronavirus regulations in England (in all tiers of lockdown) to participate in a gathering outside of more than 6 people (but see below for exceptions for protest). If the police “consider” that this rule is 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 this rule they also have the power to:
Either – Issue you a Fixed Penalty Notice (£100 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.
There is a specific exemption 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).
There is a useful article on the ITN solicitors’ news blog which goes into some detail about the new legislation for protest gatherings.
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.
This page was last updated on 28th October 2020.
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