Demonstrating respect for rights? A human rights approach to policing protest - Human Rights Joint Committee Contents


140. This Chapter assesses the police's understanding of human rights and the extent to which operational policing currently ensures that the police uphold and support human rights when policing protests. It considers changes which may be required to operational policing in order to address some of the issues identified in Chapter 3.

Understanding of human rights by the police

141. All police witnesses told us that they believed that human rights principles had become part of every area of police work. DCC Sim considered that the HRA helped rather than hindered policing:

142. AAC Allison considered that existing common law rights had been codified in the HRA, but suggested that this was beneficial, as it meant that there was now one framework which could ensure greater national consistency.[240]

143. Police representatives suggested to us that officers had a good understanding of the application of human rights to their work. Reflecting the views of officers on the ground, PC Hickey of the Police Federation suggested that officers saw human rights as "part of their daily job … it is a part of the law and they understand that it is for them to put it into practice".[241] He also noted that police officers themselves have human rights, saying "they have the right to go to work and expect to come home safely in the same condition in which they went to work."[242]

144. Looking at police practice from the outside, some witnesses commented on the effect that they perceived that the HRA had made on policing. Huntingdon Life Sciences suggested that, from their point of view, its initial impact had been negative but that this had now improved. It claimed that after the Human Rights Act came into force:

    … there was initially a climate of fear amongst police officers in relation to potential breaches of Articles 10 and 11 [ECHR]. As law enforcement agencies have become more familiar with these provisions, and as (through time) the Human Rights Act has bedded in, we see this as less of an issue.[243]

145. We are pleased to hear that the police consider that the Human Rights Act helps, rather than hinders, effective policing. We also recognise that police officers have human rights themselves, which the state is required to protect. We hope that the positive messages about human rights which we heard from the officers from whom we took oral evidence are reflected in police forces across the country.

146. AAC Allison referred to the mnemonic "PLAN" meaning, "proportionate, legal, accountable and necessary" which, he said, was used at all stages of decision making to account for the decisions which the police make.[244] Police representatives referred to the need to "balance"[245] the rights of protestors with the rights of other people to "go about their normal everyday business".[246] The Minister repeated that there was a balance to be struck[247] asking "what right does somebody have to stop me doing something in order that they can protest?".[248]

147. Considering how to balance competing rights, the OSCE/ODIHR Guidelines state:

    The regulatory authority has a duty to strike a proper balance between the important freedom of peaceful assembly and the competing rights of those who live, work, shop, trade, and carry on business in the locality affected by an assembly. That balance should ensure that other activities taking place in the same space may also proceed if they themselves do not impose unreasonable burdens. Mere disruption, or even opposition to an assembly, is not therefore, of itself, a reason to impose prior restrictions on it. Given the need for tolerance in a democratic society, a high threshold will need to be overcome before it can be established that a public assembly will unreasonably infringe the rights and freedoms of others. This is particularly so given that freedom of assembly, by definition, amounts only to temporary interference with these other rights.[249]

148. The police and Home Office, along with other witnesses, are correct to assert that there is a balance to be struck between the rights of protestors and others. However, this is only half the story. Human rights law makes clear that the balance should always fall in favour of those seeking to assert their right to protest, unless there is strong evidence for interfering with their right. Inconvenience or disruption alone are not sufficient reasons for preventing a protest from taking place, although they may be good reasons to reroute it or place other conditions upon it. Given the value of the right to protest, a certain amount of inconvenience or disruption needs to be tolerated.

Police training and accountability

149. We asked police representatives to explain the steps which could be taken if it was felt that officers were failing to meet their human rights obligations during a protest. AAC Allison referred to this becoming evident in the post-protest debrief, stating that "we are challengeable in the courts".[250] PC Hickey was not aware, however, of human rights concerns emerging as part of debriefings following protests. He agreed with AAC Allison that such matters would emerge in evidence if a case went to court.[251]

150. ACPO referred to the role of senior officers in ensuring human rights compliance:

    If our commanders, the sergeants, the inspectors see acts being undertaken that fall within the misconduct regulations then we would expect our commanders to act.[252]

151. The Police Federation representative agreed:

    There is an expectation on every police officer to report any wrongdoing or any matter that is deliberately against the law conducted by a police officer, and that would go from the constable rank all the way through.[253]

However, he also noted:

    I do not think [the complexity] of what we are dealing with here can be underestimated, and there will be genuine mistakes made and I think the important thing is that officers who make genuine mistakes are not blamed, that they are learnt from and that officers and everyone can move on from that. What is important is that that does not then become an embedded culture of risk aversion because officers doing their duty fear that they are going to be blamed when they do that.[254]

152. Police representatives informed us of the training that officers received at probationary and specialist levels, including on human rights. The Minister told us of efforts by ACPO to get greater consistency through training:

    ACPO have tried to [get greater consistency across the country in terms of how demonstrations are policed] through the training of police officers when they join the service through their probationary training, through their intermediate training, and also through various public order command courses that the police run to try and ensure that there is this consistency and you do not get some of this unwarranted difference, which … is not due to discretion… The NPIA is also trying to bring about greater consistency with respect to the policing of protests across the country.[255]

153. The National Extremism Tactical Coordination Unit (NETCU), which "aims to promote a coordinated response to domestic extremism by providing tactical advice to the police service, and information and guidance to industry and government",[256] suggested that:

    One of the obstacles … is the lack of understanding of protest and knowledge of the legislation allowing officers to deliver good practice on a consistent basis. This is particularly so at spontaneous demonstrations.[257]

154. It suggested that public order training, undertaken by all police officers, should include practical scenarios on dealing with spontaneous demonstrations where officers may have grounds to apply conditions on protestors. NETCU also suggested that public order tactical advisors should be provided to advise and support front line officers (as happens in the Metropolitan Police and some other larger forces).[258]

155. A number of witnesses expressed concerns at the difficulties in complaining about, or appealing against, police action leading up to, or on the day of, a protest. Issues can usually only be addressed after the event, which is generally too late to resolve matters satisfactorily. As Climate Camp argued: "practical, enforceable remedies for protestors are very limited, and - at the point the protest is happening - virtually non-existent".[259] They recommended the introduction of "an independent scrutiny mechanism with the power to evaluate objectively the evidence base of any purported risk to public order to ensure that resourcing decisions are proportionate to the threat posed".[260] During its visit to Madrid, the Committee heard that appeals against decisions relating to protests (such as their timings or routes) could be rapidly determined by the Spanish courts in order to resolve issues before protests take place.

156. Officers at all levels need to be supported in carrying out their legal and professional duties. Training is vital to ensuring that this happens. We recommend that human rights training should be integrated into other training, rather than provided as a discrete component, and that it should be regular, relevant and up to date. Objective evidence on the extent to which training in human rights awareness had been successful would be valuable. We recommend that the Home Office or ACPO commission independent research into the extent of police knowledge and awareness of the human rights engaged by the issue of protest.

157. We are disappointed by suggestions from some witnesses that resolution of disputes often depends on those affected taking costly and time consuming court action against police. Legal action where officers are in breach of their human rights obligations, whilst important, is not appropriate to deal with systemic problems nor a good basis from which to learn lessons for the future. It is also damaging to future relations between protestors and the police and does not allow protestors the swift response that may sometimes be required, if they are to achieve their aim of a timely and persuasive demonstration. We recommend that the Government develops a quick and cost free system for resolving complaints and disputes in advance of protests taking place.

Good practice

158. We received a significant number of examples of good practice in relation to the policing of protests. As one protest group told us, "there are some very good police around and very reasonable and who will almost go overboard in trying to do their duty to enable a demonstration to go ahead without problems".[261] Examples of good practice cited by witnesses included:

  • the decision of the Derry Commander in Northern Ireland not to use plastic bullets in public disorder situations;[262]
  • policing at Faslane;[263]
  • the creation of a dedicated operational police team by Cambridgeshire Constabulary in response to protests by Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty against Huntingdon Life Sciences;[264]
  • dialogue between police and protestors in advance;[265]
  • proactive use of section 14 of the Public Order Act 1986;[266]
  • good police-community relations and confidence in policing (Northern Ireland);[267]
  • policing parades in Northern Ireland relying on negotiation, human rights considerations and accountability;[268]
  • policing at Menwith Hill air base before 2007[269]
  • improved cross-boundary co-operation and mutual aid between police forces;[270] and
  • the creation of, and support from, the National Extremism Tactical Coordination Unit.[271]

159. Whilst such examples deserve recognition, our impression is that it is difficult to ensure consistently high practice which respects human rights and that practice varies from force to force and, to some extent, from officer to officer. Greater consistency of practice across police forces is, in our view, essential and could be achieved if debriefing after protests, to ensure that lessons are learnt, routinely deals with human rights issues. This would be enhanced by agreeing to engage the organisers of protests as part of that debriefing. We would encourage good joint working between forces to facilitate the sharing of information, intelligence, expertise and resources. Comprehensive systems need to be put in place within and between forces to ensure that lessons (both good and bad) are regularly drawn from police practice and disseminated broadly.

160. We were pleased to hear from DCC Sim about the work that ACPO does, at officer level, to ensure that good practice is disseminated throughout the different police forces. The ACPO Public Order Guidance has an important role to play.[272] The human rights statement at the beginning of the Guidance states that "in the application of any policies, strategies, tactics or operations contained in this guide, the police service will comply with the principles of the ECHR", continuing:

    Strategies and policies contained within this guide which could interfere with an individual's rights, have been identified as necessary for the following reasons:- preventing crime and disorder, public safety; and protecting the rights and freedoms of others.

    It is inherent within this guide that there is a potential to engage Articles 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10 and 11 of the Human Rights Act 1998, thus interference with an individual's rights.

    In each and every case where a recommendation has been made or good practice given, it is made with the strongest legal basis, with actions being proportionate, with the least intrusive and the least damaging option chosen.[273]

161. The guidance is for the assistance of Chief Officers, Operational Commanders, Tactical Advisors and Tactical Trainers.[274] However, it is necessary that all officers, at all levels, are aware of good practice and guidance. To this extent, the role of chief officers in communicating a message of respect for human rights is crucial. As Neil Hickey, from the Police Federation told us:

    The attitude and actions of the police on the ground depend to some degree upon the senior officer in charge.[275]

162. As we have already noted, good leadership from the top of the police down is vital to ensuring respect for human rights in any policing operations, including policing protests. This will also help to ensure consistent good practice across police forces. We recommend that any officer who is involved, in whatever way, with policing protests, should have access to accurate and helpful guidance on how to police compatibly with human rights standards. ACPO and the Police Federation should give consideration as to how this can best be achieved, engaging all police officers involved in this area of police work.


163. We visited Northern Ireland as part of our inquiry and met various representatives of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), its human rights lawyer and one of the human rights advisors to the Northern Ireland Policing Board. We pay tribute to their efforts in trying to ensure that policing of contentious parades and protests accords with human rights standards.

164. The Independent Commission on Policing in Northern Ireland was set up as part of the Good Friday Agreement. It recommended the creation of new accountability structures, and said that human rights and community policing should underpin all of the work carried out by the PSNI:

165. As ACC Duncan McCausland, whom we met, has written:

    Human rights sit at the very heart of the conception, planning, execution and control of every aspect of the operations of the Police Service of Northern Ireland ... Human rights is a critical benchmark by which the PSNI measures the impact of its actions.[277]

166. Dr Michael Hamilton and Dr Neil Jarman, members of the OSCE/ODIHR Panel of Experts on Freedom of Assembly, have described the experience in Northern Ireland as "a shift from escalated force to negotiated management models of protest policing".[278] Both AAC Allison[279] and DCC Sim distinguished the political situation in Northern Ireland from that in England and Wales, but DCC Sim noted that she had close contact with Northern Ireland officers on public order issues.[280] The Minister considered that a lesson to be drawn from Northern Ireland was that:

    You do not have to choose between strong, effective policing or the human rights approach. You can marry the two.[281]

167. We took a number of lessons away from our visit to Northern Ireland, most particularly that:

  • the PSNI's aim was to have "no surprises" on either side when policing protests;
  • the force employed a dedicated human rights lawyer who can provide human rights advice to all police officers;
  • leadership within the police must be fully committed to implementing human rights within the force;
  • human rights is explicitly referred to within the PSNI's policy;[282]
  • the PSNI's Code of Ethics sets out a comprehensive code of conduct for all police officers, based on the ECHR and other international human rights instruments relating to policing. Violation of the Code may constitute a disciplinary offence; and
  • the approach taken by police in terms of dress and equipment is designed to reduce tension.

168. In England and Wales, there is no dedicated human rights lawyer providing advice to ACPO, although there are lawyers in individual police forces who can advise on all aspects of law, including human rights. In addition, IPOC (Intermediate Public Order Command) commanders and trainers are able to provide human rights advice to other officers.[283]

169. Whilst we recognise that the political and historical situation in England and Wales is different from that in Northern Ireland, there are undoubtedly lessons that can be drawn from the Northern Irish experience of policing contentious protests whilst trying to ensure respect for human rights. Given the record of the PSNI in policing protest, we recommend that police forces in England and Wales evaluate the expertise of their legal advisers to ensure that there is sufficient human rights knowledge and understanding available to all levels of the police on a daily basis to help the police avoid human rights breaches. We also recommend that the Home Office consider whether police contracts and disciplinary procedures pay sufficient recognition to the duty of officers to act compatibly with human rights.

Monitoring police compliance

170. Since March 2008, police authorities in England and Wales have been required to monitor police compliance with the Human Rights Act 1998 in all areas of their work.[284] This duty is identical to the duty which has been placed on the Northern Ireland Policing Board since 2000.[285] The Association of Police Authorities very recently issued Human Rights Guidance for Police Authorities.[286] The Guidance notes that complying with the new duty is mandatory, but that it is a matter for each authority as to how it chooses to comply with the obligation.[287] It proposes two stages to monitoring compliance with the HRA: firstly, the development of meaningful standards against which the performance of the police can be measured and secondly, the actual process of monitoring the performance of the police against those standards.[288]

171. We understand from ACPO that HM Inspectorate will inspect all 43 police authorities in 2009. ACPO suggested that one aspect of the inspection should consist of monitoring police authorities' compliance with this new duty.[289] We agree. Having seen and heard from those working in Northern Ireland about the positive effect of this duty, we recognise it as a valuable tool in enhancing human rights compliance by the police. We will continue to monitor its application and effectiveness, and intend to review the report of the HM Inspectorate of Constabulary when it is published later this year.

Dialogue and prior notification of protests

172. A common theme which emerged during the inquiry was the importance of good dialogue, communication and co-operation between police and protestors; police and third parties; and protestors and those against whom they are protesting. It was widely accepted that effective dialogue in both directions was more likely to lead to a peaceful and trouble free protest.[290] As ACPO told us, "the vast majority of protests are undertaken with collaboration between the police and organisers where the two parties work together to ensure that the event occurs in a reasonable and safe manner. More controversial events normally involve individuals who do not wish to cooperate or consult with authorities and, at times, actively seek or encourage confrontation".[291]

173. Drawing on the experience of protests in Northern Ireland, British Irish Rights Watch told us of the importance of dialogue as a means for balancing rights:

    The key lesson learnt from Northern Ireland is the need to balance the conflicting rights which emerge in such scenarios. The method to achieve this is through dialogue between those seeking to protest and the police. As such, the creation of draconian legislation which cuts into this dialogue can only undermine efforts to balance conflicting rights. A dialogue will also enable the police to make appropriate operational decisions, on the day, enabling the development of a policing strategy tailored to each event to be created (and learnt from) rather than responding to events as they happen.[292]

174. The Metropolitan Police said that the "biggest challenge, which ends up with the biggest problem for all … [is] as a result of us not having dialogue with the organisers because they refuse to have dialogue with us".[293] Echoing the Police Service of Northern Ireland's desire for "no surprises" for anyone involved in a protest (whether police, protestor or target), the Metropolitan Police saw ongoing dialogue between the police and the protest organiser, before and during the protest, as being important so that they could deal with "what ifs".[294]

175. Considering the suggestion by protestors that the police's stance to protests has deteriorated over recent years, ACPO accepted that protestors could feel that the police are asking more questions of protestors than they did previously, but suggested that this was well intentioned and designed to facilitate protest:

    Our approach over the years … has become much more communicative … there is much more of an open dialogue and that is what we expect and that is what we train … I think it is quite right if people are saying "The police are communicating with us far more, asking us more questions " - I think they are right. But it is with a view to being able to aid protests to take place so that not only are the protestors allowed to protest but also the third party, the public in general are able to go about their business without being either intimidated by protestors or feeling that there is an overly heavy police presence.[295]

176. Given that there appears to be fairly widespread acceptance of the utility of good communication between protestors and police, what prevents it from happening effectively? Witnesses provided a number of answers. Some witnesses suggested that the police's stance towards, and treatment of, protestors appears to differ depending on their attitude to the substance of the protest.[296] This may be a factor which hinders effective communication. The National Extremism Tactical Co-ordination Unit thought that there was sometimes "unwillingness to communicate between organisers and police".[297] The Campaign for the Accountability of American Air Bases described their previously positive experiences with the police of organising bi-annual protests and how this dialogue had broken down before a recent protest took place. Contrasting their earlier experiences with more recent events, they said:

    Each year, at the two major demonstrations and having carefully liaised with [North Yorkshire Police], we have walked round the base at Menwith Hill … The police have accompanied us, enabling the protest to happen and have been very helpful in the past, the police have closed roads so that the protestors can proceed and the right to protest upheld.

    Last year, things were suddenly very different. A month before the demonstration on 4 July 2007, we received a Home Office document entitled "Organisers' Responsibilities" which set out the 'duties' of the organisers. One of the clause said that the organisers were now responsible for the 'policing' of the demonstration. For example, it was the responsibility of the organisers if roads needed to be closed … it was an impossible task.

    We had two meetings with [North Yorkshire Police] and the [Ministry of Defence Police Agency] who warned us that further conditions would be put on the demonstration. We would not be permitted to walk round the base. The police said that the A59 road was 'too dangerous'. We questioned this at the meeting, as it seemed to us that nothing had changed from previous years… We were disappointed therefore when conditions were suddenly imposed by [North Yorkshire Police] and we were prevented from walking round the base which was to be part of the protest on 4 July 2007.[298]

177. We also received other evidence of what appeared to be relatively effective dialogue between the police and protestors breaking down during the protest itself. Described by DCC Sim as a "tactical error" and a "communication mistake", we heard of last minute changes to the route of Climate Camp's 2008 protest at Kingsnorth power station, despite prior agreement with the police.[299]

178. At present, people wishing to conduct a moving protest anywhere in the country, or a static protest within the vicinity of Parliament or other SOCPA designated areas, are required to notify the police in advance of their intention to protest. This is one way of trying to ensure that there is some dialogue between protestors and the police. Some witnesses have suggested that the system of prior notification should be implemented for all protests, as it "would help the police to provide the right level of response and good practice to demonstrations".[300] However, as ACPO recognised, whilst it might be desirable to make dialogue compulsory through some form of notification requirement, it is not possible to force people to speak to the police.[301] Liberty and others suggested that making notification of protest around Parliament compulsory deterred some protestors from cooperating with the police at all.[302]

179. The European Court of Human Rights has accepted that authorisation or notification requirements for public protests may be justified on the grounds of public order or national security, but such regulations should not represent a hidden obstacle to the freedom of peaceful assembly.[303] The Minister said that the important point was "to make sure that that [sic] dialogue [between police and protestors] is of good quality and that there is trust and people listen to each other and take action appropriately".[304]

180. We have already recommended against retaining the present system of compulsory prior notification of protests around Parliament. We see no reason to introduce such a requirement elsewhere in the UK. In our view, insisting on prior notification of protests is a disproportionate interference with the right to protest and is more likely to discourage some protestors from cooperating with the police than to encourage effective dialogue.

181. We recommend that police forces review how they foster effective dialogue with protestors, with a view to ensuring that the Minister's aim of good quality, trustworthy communication is achieved as often as possible. National guidance should have a part to play in achieving this. The police should take proactive steps to ensure that dialogue is encouraged, but that it is made clear to all that such dialogue is voluntary. In this spirit, protestors themselves should also, where possible, engage with the police at an early stage in their planning, in order to facilitate peaceful protests. It is in the interests of protestors, the police, targets and the general public for there to be effective communication and co-operation between the police and protestors.

Style of policing

182. A number of witnesses commented on their perception that the style of policing had changed in recent years.[305] One criticism was that the ratio of police to protestors was excessive. Climate Camp claimed that 1,500 police were deployed against 1,000 protestors during the 2008 camp,[306] some of them in riot gear, suggesting that this was very different to the experience of demonstrators in the past:

    Ten to fifteen years ago demonstrations would have a couple of bobbies on the side walking along the demonstration and the riot vans would be parked around the corner; nowadays the police will swamp the protest, not necessarily carrying shields but sometimes with helmets and certainly with their jumpsuits - they swamp the protest with riot police. Again at Climate Camp there was a striking example where there were 23 people stood at a fence, lots of them looking like hippies basically, playing guitar and singing; you looked across and there were two or three rows of police armed with truncheons, shields, helmets, ready as if to have a riot.[307]

183. DCC Sim outlined the ideal scenario from ACPO's point of view:

    … we police by consent and the British bobby in a British bobby's uniform is the image that we want to have for all protests. If we have intelligence which suggests that our officers are going to be in danger, the public are going to be in danger, then I would expect [officers] to be kitted out differently; but if we are talking about an understanding where there is no intelligence to suggest that there is going to be any trouble at all then I would expect it to be policed in normal British police uniform.[308]

184. In relation to the Metropolitan Police, AAC Allison told us of the risk assessment that is undertaken in advance of deploying officers in protective equipment:

    We do not put the officers out in protective equipment where the risk assessment is low. There are very, very few occasions on public order events, certainly within the capital, where we deploy in protective equipment… It is not offensive equipment, it is protective equipment. It protects officers and I have a duty of care to people who are employed by the Commissioner to make sure that they are not injured on these events.[309]

185. The Police Federation drew attention to the need to protect the safety of officers at demonstrations, arguing that officers "expect to come home safely in the same condition in which they went to work".[310]

186. The Police Service of Northern Ireland told us that police officers in Northern Ireland dress in normal uniform where possible, to avoid escalating situations. Backup officers in protective equipment are kept in reserve. AAC Allison was not convinced that this approach would be beneficial elsewhere in the UK:

    If you have are going to have two sets of officers, so one set is going to be on the front line and one set is going to be on reserve and you come in and deploy, that is a massive investment in terms of your officers who have been taken away from other bits of policing. If the intelligence is there that says people within this particular group are such that they are likely to attack us, therefore we need protective equipment, our view is that we should not wait to get one or two officers injured as a result, but what we should do is right at the front put officers out in protective equipment.[311]

This view does not reflect the extensive experience in Northern Ireland. When we put protestors' concerns to the Minister, he accepted that what officers wore when policing demonstrations had an impact on how some people behaved.[312]

187. We are concerned that protestors have the impression that the police are sometimes heavy-handed in their approach to protests, especially in wearing riot equipment in order to deal with peaceful demonstrations. Whilst we recognise that police officers should not be placed at risk of serious injury, the deployment of riot police can unnecessarily raise the temperature at protests. The PSNI has shown how fewer police can be deployed at protests, in normal uniform, apparently with success. Whilst the decision as to the equipment used must be an operational one and must depend on the circumstances and geography in the particular circumstances, policing practice of this sort can help to support peaceful protest and uphold the right to peaceful assembly and we recommend that the adoption of this approach be considered by police forces in England and Wales, where appropriate.


188. The use of weapons by the police is one which raises human rights issues. In 1998, the UN Committee Against Torture expressed concern at the use of plastic bullet rounds in Northern Ireland as a means of riot control and recommended that such use be discontinued.[313] Commenting on the use of Attenuating Energy Projectiles (AEPs) in Northern Ireland, our predecessor Committee noted that their use raised clear human rights concerns in principle, but that use of AEPs in riot situations could be justified as a proportionate response to serious violence which threatens the lives of the police or the public. It recommended that the use of AEPs should be subject to close scrutiny to ensure that these conditions are met and that there is clarity and consistency in the guidelines applying to their use.[314]

189. During the course of our inquiry, the Home Secretary announced her decision to make taser electro-shock weapons available to specially trained police officers in all forces in England and Wales, following a Home Office pilot in a number of police areas.[315] Commenting on the announcement, Amnesty International, which has previously expressed concerns about the use of tasers, called on the Government to guarantee that tasers would only be available to firearms officers and a limited number of specially trained officers across the UK. It also called on the Home Office to demonstrate how the use of tasers is compatible with the UK's obligations under international human rights laws.[316]

190. We asked DCC Sim, Deputy Chief Constable of Northumbria Police, which participated in one of the pilots, to comment on the proposals and in particular on the use of tasers in public order or protest situations. Responding, DCC Sim stated that tasers issued to specially trained units (STUs) should only be deployed:

    … when officers or the public are facing, or likely to face serious violence… I do not see any situation when STUs would be deployed to a protest, indeed the very nature of taser is such that it should not be deployed against large numbers of people and officers are trained to use other options when dealing with these situations.[317]

191. The Home Office Minister agreed with ACPO on this matter stating:

    I cannot envisage a situation in which taser, which has a very short range anyway, irrespective of the moral argument around it, practically would be something that would be useful. I cannot see a situation in which it would be appropriate to use taser to control demonstration or protest.[318]

192. We were pleased to hear the Minister's and ACPO's unequivocal statements that tasers should not be used on protestors. We understand from the Minister that guidance on the use of tasers will be produced jointly by ACPO and the Home Office. We recommend that guidance on the use of tasers, to which officers should be required to have regard, should make clear that the weapons should not be used against peaceful protestors. In addition, we recommend that quarterly reports be made to Parliament on the deployment and use of tasers, including the reasons for their use in specific incidents. The Government should continue to monitor the medical effects of the use of tasers and publish its findings.

Police relations with journalists

193. The National Union of Journalists drew our attention to the particular problems faced by journalists, especially photo-journalists, when covering demonstrations.[319] Although recognising that there were some examples of good practice when police engage with the media, the NUJ suggested that this was rare[320] and particularly criticised the work of the police Forward Intelligence Team:

    What we are seeing is a group of journalists who regularly cover protests being stopped and searched, way away from the protest, being photographed, having information recorded about what they are wearing, where they are going, who they are working for and so on, and it is creating an intimidatory atmosphere that means people are less likely to go out and cover protests. If we are all saying that publicity is one of the reasons for protest, actually what the police are doing here is undermining that freedom of the media and the ability of the protestors to be able to get their message across via the media.[321]

194. Whilst ACPO/media guidelines have been agreed between police and the Union, the NUJ suggested that they were "useless because the police on the street do not know anything about them".[322] Jeremy Dear, General Secretary of the NUJ, told us that he wanted the Home Office to make sure that the police abided by the guidelines, rather than force journalists to challenge police practice in the courts.[323] He also advocated better training of police and better enforcement of the guidelines such as through police employment contracts.[324]

195. The Campaign Against the Arms Trade alleged that police appeared to be encouraging journalists not to cover some demonstrations, such as those at the premises of an arms manufacturer, as it would be "irresponsible" to do so.[325]

196. The NUJ wrote to the Home Secretary expressing concern at police surveillance of journalists[326] and subsequently had a meeting with the Minister, Vernon Coaker MP. Following the meeting, the ACPO/media guidelines were revised and the Minister wrote to the NUJ stating:

    We have addressed this directly in the revised guidance making it clear that the Terrorism Act 2000 does not prohibit people from taking photographs or digital images. The guidance also makes it clear that film and memory cards may be seized as part of a search but officers do not have a legal power to delete images or destroy film.[327]

197. The Minister also told us that the NUJ had been invited to talk to ACPO and to attend demonstrations with the police to advise them on possible changes to procedures.[328]

198. When we asked police representatives about the concerns surrounding police relations with journalists, the Metropolitan Police told us that "it is in all of our operation orders that journalists have a right to operate and we would not seek to stop it… We fully accept that we are accountable and we can be photographed and they have a right to operate and we try to ensure that that message gets to all of our officers all of the time".[329]

199. The OSCE/ODIHR Guidelines note the important role that journalists play in covering demonstrations and protests:

    Journalists have an important role to play in providing independent coverage of public assemblies. As such, they must be distinguished from participants and be given as much access as possible by the authorities.[330]

200. It is unacceptable that individual journalists are left with no option but to take court action against officers who unlawfully interfere with their work. Journalists have the right to carry out their lawful business and report the way in which demonstrations are handled by the police without state interference, unless such interference is necessary and proportionate, and journalists need to be confident that they can carry out their role. The public in turn have the right to impart and receive information: the media are the eyes and ears of the public, helping to ensure that the police are accountable to the people they serve. Effective training of front line police officers on the role of journalists in protests is vital. Police forces should consider how to ensure their officers follow the media guidelines which have been agreed between ACPO and the NUJ, and take steps to deal with officers who do not follow them.

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247   Q 303. Back

248   Q 306. Back

249   OSCE/ODIHR Guidelines, paras. 70-71. Back

250   Q 194. Back

251   Q 187. Back

252   Q 195. Back

253   Q 196. Back

254   Q 197. Back

255   Q 307. Back

256   National Extremism Tactical Coordination Unit ( Back

257   Ev 73. Back

258   Ev 73. Back

259   Ev 115, para. 29; Q 157. Back

260   Ev 113, para. 7. Back

261   Q 158. Back

262   Ev 94. Back

263   Ev 203. Back

264   Ev 146. Back

265   E.g. Ev 92, 94, 127, 142 and 191: "The vast majority of protests are undertaken with collaboration between the police and organisers where the two parties work together to ensure that the event occurs in a reasonable and safe manner. More controversial events normally involve individuals who do not wish to cooperate or consult with authorities and, at times, actively seek or encourage confrontation." Back

266   Ev 146. Back

267   Ev 183. Back

268   Ibid. Back

269   Ev 97. Back

270   Ev 146 and Q 90. Back

271   Ev 146. Back

272   ACPO Manual of Guidance, Public Order: Standards, Tactics and Training, Centrex, March 2004. Back

273   ACPO Manual of Guidance, p. 8. Back

274   ACPO Manual of Guidance, p. 8. Back

275   Ev 77. Back

276   Independent Commission on Policing in Northern Ireland, 1999. Back

277   McCausland, D., Policing Parades and Protest in Northern Ireland [2007] EHRLR 212. Back

278   Ev 183. Back

279   Q 204. Back

280   Q 203. Back

281   Q 51. Back

282   Quoted in McCausland, above, p. 212: "It is our aim to provide a high quality, effective policing service to all the people of Northern Ireland… In policing public events this aim will be to the fore. The human rights of all those affected by such events will be central to all stages of police preparations and subsequent actions. It is recognised that not all human rights are absolute rights and in some instances the rights of individuals must be balanced with those of others, including those of differing and wider communities." Back

283   Q 190. Back

284   Police Authorities (Particular Functions and Transitional Provisions) Order 2008 (SI 2008/82). Back

285   Section 3(3)(b)(ii) of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000. The human rights advisers to the Policing Board have produced a human rights monitoring framework, annual reports on the compliance of the PSNI with the HRA and two reports on the policing of parades in which serious violent disorder occurred. Northern Ireland Policing Board, Report on the Policing of the Ardoyne Parades 12th July 2004 and Report on the Policing of the Ardoyne Parades 12th July 2005 and the Whiterock Parade 10th September 2005. Back

286   Association of Police Authorities, Human Rights Guidance for Police Authorities - Monitoring Compliance with the Human Rights Act 1998, January 2009. Back

287   Association of Police Authorities, Human Rights Guidance for Police Authorities, p.5. Back

288   Association of Police Authorities, Human Rights Guidance for Police Authorities, p.5. Back

289   Q 207. Back

290   E.g. Ev 92, 94, and 127. Back

291   Ev 191. Back

292   Ev 94. Back

293   Q 205. Back

294   Q 232. Back

295   Q 180. Back

296   Qq 158/9. Back

297   Ev 72. Back

298   Ev 97. Back

299   The protestors had agreed with the police that they would process from their camp to the power station and back. The route and timing of the procession had been agreed. Twenty minutes before the procession was due to conclude, an order was given by one of the police helicopters to the protestors to disperse. They were told that if they did not do so, police horses, dogs and batons would be used against them. Ev 112. Back

300   Ev 72. Back

301   Q 223. Back

302   Q 17 and Ev 158. See also Chapter 5 above on protest around Parliament specifically. Back

303   Aldemir v Turkey, App. No. 32124/02, 18 December 2007, paras 40-43. This is reiterated in the OSCE/ODIHR Guidelines, p. 15. Back

304   Q 290. Back

305   See Chapter 3 above, paras 52-57. Back

306   Ev 115. Back

307   Q 129. Back

308   Q 235. Back

309   Q 256. Back

310   Q 253. Back

311   Q 257. Back

312   Qq 286-87. Back

313   Concluding Observations of the Committee Against Torture: United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, 17 November 1998, A/54/44. Back

314   Nineteenth Report of Session 2005-06, The UN Convention Against Torture, HL Paper 185-I, HC 701-I, para. 181. Back

315   24 November 2008. Back

316   Tasers: Only best-trained officers should have Tasers, says Amnesty, Press Release, 24 November 2008. Back

317   Ev 192. Back

318   Q 61. Back

319   See above, para. 50. Back

320   Q 90. Back

321   Q 97. Back

322   Q 99. Back

323   Q 102. Back

324   Q 105. Back

325   Ev 101, para. 21. Back

326   Extract from NUJ letter to Home Secretary dated 22 May 2008: "We have serious concerns about the activities of the Metropolitan Police's Forward Intelligence Team (FIT Team) in monitoring and recording the activities of bona fide journalists, especially photographers. A number of members have alleged that the police's surveillance action amounts to virtual harassment and is a serious threat to their right to carry out their lawful employment"; reproduced in full in Ev 177. Back

327   Letter of 3 December 2008 from Vernon Coaker MP to Jeremy Dear, General Secretary of the National Union of Journalists. Back

328   Q 292. Back

329   Q 252. Back

330   OSCE/ODIHR, Guidelines on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly, p. 17. Back

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