UK Protest Rights and Democracy Following Recent Reforms
Protest law has been subject to significant reform in the UK recently. This follows the passing of the Police, Crime, Courts and Sentencing Act 2022, the Public Order Act 2023 and the Public Order Act 1986 (Serious Disruption to the Life of the Community) Regulations 2023.
The Police, Crime, Courts and Sentencing Act 2022 created new powers for the police to intervene in protests. This includes where “the noise generated by persons taking part in the procession may result in serious disruption to the activities of an organisation which are carried on in the vicinity of the procession”.
The Public Order Act 2023 contains provisions originally rejected by the UK Westminster Parliament’s House of Lords during the passage of the Police, Crime, Courts and Sentencing Bill. The Act created new offences to stop protestors from ‘locking on’ and engaging in other tactics used by protest groups in recent years. It also created “Serious Disruption Prevention Orders” which allow UK courts to impose prohibitions on individuals convicted of a protest-related offence or a protest-related breach of an injunction. Such prohibitions include banning the individual from “being with particular persons”, “participating in particular activities”, “being in or entering a particular place or area”, and “using the internet to facilitate or encourage persons to… carry out activities related to a protest that result in, or are likely to result in, serious disruption to two or more individuals, or to an organisation, in England and Wales”.
The Public Order Act 1986 (Serious Disruption to the Life of the Community) Regulations 2023 contained proposals that the House of Lords had objected to being included in the Public Order Bill. These regulations defined the threshold for what counts as “serious disruption” with respect to protests in England and Wales as “more than a minor hinderance” including with respect to the public carrying out “day-to-day activities”.
This will be a panel discussion which considers the status of UK protest rights following such reforms, and the way such reforms have been achieved, and what this means for UK democracy.
Professor David Mead
David Mead is Professor of UK Human Rights Law at the University of East Anglia, a chair he has held since 2013. His main area of research is protest law, and the policing of public order. In 2021-22 he was Parliamentary Academic Fellow to the JCHR as the Police Crime Sentencing and Courts Act made its way through Parliament. He has worked with counsel in several high profile protest cases in the past five or so years, and he has been consulted by UN Special Rapporteurs on matters relating to protest, use of force and policing. He is the author of the main academic work on the topic The New Law of Peaceful Protest: Rights & Regulation in the Human Rights Act Era (Hart, 2010).
Anna Morris KC, Garden Court North
Anna Morris KC specialises in inquests and inquiries, civil liberties and human rights and private and public law claims involving public authorities. Anna is recognised as a Leading Junior by Chambers and Partners and The Legal 500 in all of her core practice areas. Anna acts for bereaved families and claimants in private and public law proceedings. Anna has a particular expertise in the law relating to policing protests, public order and deaths in custody and is often instructed in large scale, complex multi-agency cases. Anna is frequently instructed in high profile and complex public inquiries and inquests and is currently instructed as leading counsel in the Covid 19 Public Inquiry by a large number of individuals impacted by the Covid-19 vaccine. Anna is the Human Rights Editor of Stones’ Justices’ Manual (Lexis Nexis) and the Author of “The Protest Handbook” (2nd Ed 2020) (Bloomsbury Professional).
Kevin Blowe was a founding member of the Network for Police Monitoring (Netpol) in 2009 and has been a staff member since 2014, becoming Campaigns Coordinator in 2021. Netpol’s work highlights and challenges aggressive police tactics, intrusive police surveillance and the government’s expansion of public order powers.
Kevin has been active in community-based police monitoring initiatives since 1990 and spent 25 years as a campaigner with the Newham Monitoring Project in east London. He was also the secretary of the United Families and Friends Campaign, a coalition of bereaved families whose loved ones died in the custody of the state, from 1998 to 2009. For six years to 2019, he worked with anti-fracking groups to challenge the oppressive policing and surveillance targeting their protests. He is a trustee of both INQUEST and the Article 11 Trust and the author of “Local Police Monitoring: A Practical Guide” published in 2022.
Dr Daniella Lock
Daniella Lock is a postdoctoral fellow at the Bonavero Institute for Human Rights, assisting with the preparation of curriculum materials for the Symposium on Strength and Solidarity alongside her research on executive power and democracy. Her research focuses on constraints of executive power, in particular national security-related power, human rights and the ability to politically organise including to protest and campaign. Before working at the Bonavero Institute, she completed a PhD in human rights law at UCL and an undergraduate degree in philosophy and politics at LSE. Daniella has worked with NGOs, activists and political organisations. These include Liberty, Amnesty International, JUSTICE, Wadzanai, Assistance Association of Political Prisoners (Burma), and the Labour Party. She has also provided evidence to a range of Westminster parliamentary committees.
Daniella's research has been published in journals such as the Modern Law Review, The Political Quarterly, and the European Human Rights Law Review, and reported in The Guardian. She has also written and co-written reports for the Constitution Unit and Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law, as well as online articles including for the UK Constitutional Law Association Blog, Just Security, the LSE Human Rights Blog, Jacobin, The Conversation and Tribune.