Solidarity protests against the death of George Floyd in the US are continuing to take place in the UK – but are they actually legal given the coronavirus lockdown?
What do the lockdown laws say about protests?
England now has the loosest lockdown in the UK, with no restrictions on going outside. But the rules (officially known as regulations) don’t explicitly say anything about whether people can protest or not.
However, regulation seven restricts public gatherings to no more than six people.
The law defines a “gathering” as a meeting involving “social interaction with each other, or to undertake any other activity”. And so that means, pretty clearly, that a protest is currently illegal along with any other activity that could increase the spread of the virus.
What penalties could you face for taking part in a protest?
Police have been trying to encourage people to follow the law and the public health message, and they can break up gatherings. Before the death of Mr Floyd, this tended to mean officers directing large parties to stop and ordering people to go to their own homes.
Officers can hand out fixed-penalty notices – a form of on-the-spot ticket – that start at £100 to anyone who won’t follow the health regulations. They can also arrest and charge someone with an offence, potentially leading to a large fine in a magistrates’ court.
So taking all that together, officers have the power to break up and ticket people for being part of a protest, on coronavirus health grounds.
Police also have the power to arrest anyone committing a breach of the peace and there are various offences under the Public Order Act 1986 that the police may arrest for if protesters are suspected of using or threatening violence or causing harassment, alarm or distress.
Our team of Public Order Solicitors can assist with:
- Advice & representation at the Police Station for anyone arrested at a protest
- Representation at the Magistrates’ Court and Crown Court if you are charged with an offence
Our lawyers are on hand 24/7 to provide legal advice and support. Call our team on: 0333 016 3333 or ask for us at the Police Station. Read more about our Protest Law Team here.