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


201. Peaceful protest should be facilitated and protected: to fail to do so would jeopardise a number of rights, including the right to freedom of peaceful assembly (Article 11 ECHR) and the right to freedom of expression (Article 10 ECHR). Some peaceful protests, because of their size or nature, will require policing: sometimes to keep protestors and members of the public safe, and sometimes to allow counter-protests.

202. We have not found any systematic human rights abuses as a result of the policing of protest in the UK. Legislation also broadly protects individuals' right to protest. However, we recommend some small changes to the law to improve protection of those rights, including the right to freedom of expression. Furthermore, the law governing protest around Parliament should be overhauled in order to protect the right to protest and ensure public safety, whilst allowing Parliamentarians to continue with their work.

203. We are concerned by the numerous reports that policing of protest has become more heavy-handed in recent years. We appreciate that the police should not be placed in potentially dangerous situations without appropriate support and note that the police sometimes question protestors with the intention of opening dialogue. However, people who wish to protest peacefully should not have the impression that police are attempting to stop protest going ahead.

204. Both the police and protestors should focus on effective dialogue. The police should aim to have "no surprises" policing: no surprises for the police; no surprises for protestors and no surprises for protest targets. For such an approach to work there must be attempts on all sides to build trust. Conflicts and disagreements may well arise, but a relationship based on trust requires conflicts to be dealt with quickly and without cost to protestors. In this Report, we made recommendations intended to improve police operations and to encourage the police to further develop a human rights approach to policing of protest.

205. We conclude that these changes to the way the police operate should strengthen the right to protest and improve the way it is policed in the future.

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Prepared 23 March 2009