In the UK we have the right to protest peacefully, but even when actions are both legal and peaceful, this doesn’t mean the police will act reasonably. It’s impossible to know how the police will react in any given situation.

The vast majority of protesters in the UK don’t get arrested, but we aim to be prepared for anything in order to keep ourselves and other people as safe as possible. 

This guide isn’t long enough to tell you everything you might want to know about protest and the law – we recommend you check out the Green and Black Cross website, email the UKSCN Legal Support Team at [email protected] or call the Protest Legal Support Helpline at 07946 541 511.

The UKSCN Legal Support Team run online ‘Know Your Rights’ (KYR) training. To find out when the next one is please check UKSCN social media or email us at [email protected]. These are recommended for all strikers in England and Wales – Northern Irish strikers have their own trainings.

 

There are 5 Key Messages that it is important to remember before any action:

1 – No Comment!

The police chat to protesters in order to find out information to intimidate us and find out information to use against us.

You usually don’t have to answer questions from the police, so don’t. This is for your own protection and the protection of everyone else, especially strikers who might be more at risk of experiencing violence from the police.

Answer ‘No Comment’ to ‘friendly chats’, in a police van and during interview if you’re arrested.

Main exceptions:

    • If you’re arrested, you may wish to give your name, address, date of birth and nationality at the custody desk to speed up your release.
    • If you’re arrested and the police ask your nationality you must give it.
    • For other exceptions please see here.
2 – No Personal Details!

You usually don’t need to give your personal details to police, so don’t. If you’re stop-and-searched you’re not legally required to give the police any of your personal details (an exception to this is if you’re stop-and-questioned in Northern Ireland under Section 21 of the Justice and Security (NI) Act 2007). If the police say you have to give them your personal details ask ‘Under What Power?’

3 – Under What Power?

The police often assume that protesters, especially young people, don’t know anything about the law. They may ask you to do something you’re not legally required to do because they think they won’t be challenged.

If a police officer tells you to do (or stop doing) something, ask ‘Under What Power?’ to challenge them to act lawfully, and take notes of what laws they say they’re using.

4 – No Duty Solicitor!

If you’re arrested you have the right to call a solicitor who will come and give you advice for free. The duty solicitor is the solicitor at the police station. They are often uninformed about protest law and give bad advice to protesters.

If you’re arrested, don’t use the duty solicitor – call a trusted solicitor. You can find your nearest solicitor who is experienced in protest cases on this list or on the bustcard for your local area.

5 – No Caution!

The police may try to offer you a caution on the street or after an arrest. A caution sounds like nothing, but it’s not – it’s an admission of guilt for an offence you might not get charged with or found guilty for, and it stays on your record for a while and can seriously impact your chances of getting some jobs.

It is advised that you refuse to take cautions unless you’ve been told to accept one by a trusted protest solicitor and understand why your case is an exception.

Do we need to tell the police about our strike?

It’s usually recommended that protesters don’t inform the police in advance of protests, as this may lead to a higher police presence and a higher likelihood of the police putting restrictions on the protest. For more information on this please see here.

  • Static strike: There is no legal requirement to inform the police in advance of a static protest.
  • March: If you’re planning a march, the ‘organiser’ is legally required to notify the police under Section 11 of the Public Order Act. If your group is non-hierarchical and has no singular ‘organiser’, it’s difficult to know who is supposed to notify the police, so many groups don’t. If your march is (or appears to be) spontaneous, you also don’t need to notify the police, and the same applies if you strike regularly (eg. every month) and usually follow the same route.

Who are the police officers in the light blue bibs?

Police officers who wear light blue bibs are called Police Liaison Officers (PLOs). They may seem friendly, but they’ve publicly stated on many occasions that their job is to gather surveillance to use against protesters. Talking to PLOs is a speedy way to end up on a police database – say ‘No Comment’. For more information about PLOs please see here for an article or here for a video.

Bustcards

Bustcards are small cards that show information about your rights at protests. We recommend that people take a bustcards to strikes even if they don’t think they’re likely to interact with police or be arrested. Find the bustcard for your local area here.

You can contact the UKSCN Legal Support Team via email at [email protected]. You can also call the national Protest Legal Support Helpline at 07946 541 511. We recommend taking a look at Green and Black Cross for more information.