The Government response to covid-19: freedom of assembly and the right to protest Contents


1.This report focuses on how the right to protest and freedom of assembly have been impacted by the restrictions introduced by the Government since March 2020 to curb the spread of covid-19.

2.On 30 November 2020 we launched an inquiry into the implications of long lockdown—that is, the impact of continued restrictions introduced to curb the spread of covid-19. Our call for evidence covered a range of human rights issues raised by the restrictions, including the impact on the right to protest. We asked:

How have lockdown restrictions affected the right to protest? Has the correct balance been struck?1

3.A number of protests had taken place since covid-19 restrictions were first introduced. Protests relating to the Black Lives Matter movement had taken place across the country in late Spring and Summer; protests by those who wished to defend memorials followed, after a statue of Edward Colston was pulled down in Bristol; and protests against the lockdown restrictions themselves had also taken place.

4.Then, on 13 March 2021 events unfolded on Clapham Common. The day before, a woman’s remains found in Kent had been identified as Sarah Everard’s; she had last been seen on the Common. A gathering was planned to take place on 13 March but the organisers, Reclaim These Streets, called off the event when the police said that it would be unlawful. Others still gathered, and the police intervened. Images of the confrontation that followed that evening brought issues regarding the policing of protests to the fore once again.

5.In February 2021, we had taken evidence on matters relating to the policing of the pandemic, the use of Fixed-Penalty Notices and the right to protest. We heard oral evidence from Gracie Bradley, Interim Director, Liberty, Kirsty Brimelow QC, Doughty Street Chambers and Lochlinn Parker, Head of Civil Liberties, ITN Solicitors. We also heard from representatives of the police: John Apter, National Chair, Police Federation of England and Wales, Ben-Julian Harrington, Chief Constable at Essex Police, and Public Order & Public Safety at National Police Chiefs Council, and Owen Weatherill, Assistant Chief Constable, National Police Coordination Centre. We are grateful to all our witnesses, and those who have sent the committee written submissions.

6.This report covers the law in England, although similar restrictions have been in place in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Whilst fixed penalty notices are referred to, their use and the human rights issues they raise are not covered in detail in this report.

1 Joint Committee on Human Rights—Call for evidence

Published: 19 March 2021 Site information    Accessibility statement