The following is a press release issues by the Netpol Lawyers’ Group.
The Metropolitan Police has complained that activists are not contacting them to discuss plans to protest at Margaret Thatcher’s funeral. The police should be reminded that for stationary demonstrations there is no legal requirement that the police be notified beforehand. Furthermore, given the significant number of ‘pre-emptive arrests’ which have taken place during the Royal Wedding and at other events and the suggestion by the police of similar tactics being used again, it may not be surprising that protestors are wary of providing the police with information which could lead to their arrest and detention for exercising their right to free speech.
Police and protestors should all be aware of the following:
· Pre-emptive arrests to prevent a ‘breach of the peace’ where someone is acting lawfully can only be made in exceptional circumstances.
· Only where there is an imminent threat of violence can such action be lawful.
· Loud, even boisterous behaviour, is not a breach of the peace, unless violence is likely to be imminently provoked as a result.
· Even then, action short of arrest which will prevent violence should be considered, particularly if it means some freedom of speech could be preserved.
Policing of protests must be measured and proportionate and give due regard to the rights of those who choose to express dissenting views.