Your right to protest - Liberty (2023)


Do I have the right to protest? Can the police limit my right to protest?

On this page:

Your right to protest

Can my right to protest be restricted?

What are the rules for putting conditions on a protest?

Can the police prohibit my protest?

What if I don't obey conditions or a prohibition?

What's Liberty doing about it?

(Video) Law, Land & Liberty | Episode - 32 | Right to Protest

Further information

[Header image description: Picture of a group of people protesting at a Women’s March outside some buildings. They are all facing away from the camera. One woman has her fist raised in the air, and other people are holding signs and placards. Someone holds a white placard with “hands off our rights!” in big black letters.]

Disclaimer: this article is for general information. It’s not intended to be used as legal advice. For information on how to get legal advice,please see our page here.

In 2022, the Police, Crime, Sentencing & Courts Act 2022 (also called the Policing Act or the PCSC Act) was passed. It has changed the law on protesting. See our page here to see how the PCSC Act affects your protest rights.

The information on this page was correct when it was updated on 28 June 2022. It includes changes brought in by the PCSC Act. However, the law may change.

This page sets out the law and guidance which applies in England only.

Your right to protest

Everyone has the right to protest and to organise protests. This right is protected by the European Convention on Human Rights (the ECHR).

Your right to freedom of expression is protected under Article 10 of the ECHR. Your right to freedom of assembly is protected under Article 11.

These Articles have been brought into UK law by the Human Rights Act 1998. It

  • Requires public authorities, like the police, to act in a way that is compatible with your rights. The police also have the legal obligation to help protests take place. A legal obligation is something that the law requires you to do. It’s not optional.
  • Allows you to bring a claim in UK courts when your rights are not respected.

Can my right to protest be restricted?

Articles 10 and 11 are qualified rights. This means that there can be restrictions to you using these rights, but only if:

  • There is a legal basis. This means there must be a law allowing the police to limit your rights. The PCSC Act would count as a legal basis.
  • There is a legitimate aim. This means the limits to your rights must be for a good reason. Articles 10 and 11 both have lists of legitimate aims. The main ones the police use to limit your rights are
    • Preventing crime or disorder
    • Protecting public health, and
    • Protecting other’s rights
  • The limit must be proportionate. This means the limit should only go as far as is necessary to carry out that legitimate aim. The police must always look at whether how they are policing a protest is proportionate. This is called a proportionality assessment.

The main way the police restrict protests is by imposing conditions. See below for more information on this.

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What are the rules for the putting conditions on a protest?

Who can put conditions on a protest?

A senior police officer can put conditions on a stationary protest or protest march. This includes one person protests.

A senior police officer is the Commissioner or Chief Constable, or the most senior officer on the ground.

What conditions can they put on a protest?

The law says that the police officer may impose “such conditions as appear to the officer necessary”. This means the officer has a lot of options depending on what they think is necessary.

The PCSC Act says the officer must reasonably believe that the protest may cause the following

  • serious public disorder
  • serious damage to property
  • serious disruption to the life of the community – see our page on the PCSC Act for more information on this.
  • Noise that is generated by the protest may
    • lead to serious disruption to the activities of an organisation that is active nearby
    • have a relevant impact on people in the area
      Our page on the PCSC Act has more information on noisy protests.
  • the purpose of the protest it to intimidate others – to put them off doing something they have a right to do.

Note that the PCSC Act 2022 lets Government ministers make regulations to change the meanings of

  • serious disruption to the life of the community and
  • serious disruption to the activities of an organisation

What conditions can be put on one-person protests?

See here for more information about one-person protests.

Noise conditions

The officer must reasonably believe the noise generated by the protest may

  • lead to serious disruption to the activities of an organisation that is active nearby
  • have a relevant impact on people in the area, or

For a moving one-person protest, the police can

  • put conditions on the route of the protest or
  • ban the protester from entering a public place.

This is the case even if the one-person protest is just intending to move from place to place.

What other rights do I have if the police put conditions on a protest?

The police must always take into account your rights to

  • Freedom of expression (Article 10), and
  • Freedom of assembly (Article 11).

Any conditions they impose before the protest should be communicated. This communication should be from the relevant police force’s Commissioner or Chief Constable. It also should be in writing.

Any conditions they impose during the protest should be communicated to you by the most senior police officer on the ground.

The police also have to follow anti-discrimination laws when they do this, or any other public function. For more information on this, see our pages on discrimination here.

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Can the police ban my protest?

Yes. This is also called prohibiting a protest.

Stationary protests:

A Commissioner or Chief Constable can prohibit stationary protests within a 5-mile radius for up to 4 days.

The Home Secretary must agree.

The Commissioner or Chief constable mustreasonably believethat a planned protest:

  • is likely to be trespassing, which means being on land without permission, or with limited public access, and
  • may cause either:
    • serious disruption to the life of the community, or
    • significant damage to important land, buildings or monuments.

Protest marches

A Commissioner or Chief Constable can prohibit protest marches in a specific area for up to 3 months.

The Home Secretary must agree.

The Commissioner or Chief constable must reasonably believe that conditions wouldn’t be enough to prevent serious public disorder because of the specific circumstances of that area.

Prohibitions should always be made with your Article 10 and Article 11 rights in mind. They should only happen in exceptional circumstances.

Contact us if the police have prohibited your protest and you want more information.

What if I don’t obey conditions or a prohibition?

If you are a protestor or a protest organiser, it is a criminal offence if

  • you don’t comply with conditions imposed on a stationary protest or protest march
  • you incite others to breach police conditions
  • you go to or organise a prohibited protest march
  • you incite others to go to a prohibited protest march

Our page on the PCSC Act has more information on this, including what the punishments could be. The punishments are often harsher for organisers.

However, you can defend yourself if you can prove that your failure to comply with conditions came from circumstances beyond your control.

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What’s Liberty doing about it?

Liberty has long been a supporter of everyone’s right to protest. The Government is trying change the law and make it harder for everyone to protest. Liberty has been fighting this, and you can read our briefings about the Public Order Bill here.

Other pages you might be interested in:


What are my rights on this?

Find out more about your rights and how the Human Rights Act protects them

Know your rights

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Which right is the right to protest? ›

The First Amendment protects your right to assemble and express your views through protest.

Why do we need the right to protest? ›

Protests are a catalyst for social change, and are essential for citizen participation in a pluralistic democracy. They enable individuals and groups to share their views and interests, express dissent, and make demands of government or other institutions.

Do you need permission to protest in the US? ›

People can legally protest without a permit anywhere that falls into the category of a traditional public forum. Public streets, parks, and sidewalks are all traditional public forums. Additionally, you can take pictures of anything in plain view while protesting in a traditional public forum.

Is there a right way to protest? ›

No. There isn't REALLY a right way to protest. But we do know that as protests get more extreme, they usually get less support from the public. At the end of the day, protests are a battle to win over public opinion, and to do that, they have to navigate a weird dilemma.

Is freedom to protest a human right? ›

Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

When did we get the right to protest? ›

In the United States, the landmark 1969 Tinker v. Des Moines Supreme Court case established the student right to protest so long as it does not cause "substantial disruption".

Why is it important to protest peacefully? ›

Peaceful protests are a way for ordinary people to have their voices heard. Inherent power imbalances in society can result in people feeling marginalised and disenfranchised. Non-violent civil movements can offer anyone the opportunity to become involved and have a voice.

What are some examples of protesting? ›

Types of demonstrations and unrest
  • Marching, where groups of people walk together through the streets. ...
  • Rallies, where people gather at a location to hear speakers.
  • Pickets and sit-ins, where people surround, occupy or block off an area.
  • Riots, where protesters turn violent against people or property.
Nov 9, 2022

How can a protest be unlawful? ›

This means that the government can restrict rights—including protests—in certain ways without violating the Charter. A protest that endangers others, damages property or significantly restricts essential services and processes within society is unlikely to receive constitutional protection.

Can I protest if I'm not a citizen? ›

This means that you have a right to participate in political protests, marches, and demonstrations. The First Amendment also protects freedom of the press (among other rights). These rights apply to everyone in the U.S., regardless of immigration status.

Do protesters have the right to protest? ›

Section 2(c) includes the right to participate in peaceful demonstrations, protests, parades, meetings, picketing and other assemblies.

How do you protest peacefully? ›

How to plan a peaceful protest
  1. ASSEMBLE. Gather like-minded people and make a case for why a protest action is necessary. ...
  2. ORGANIZE. Designate an effective mode of leadership or agree to opt for a more open, nonhierarchical structure.
  3. DEFINE. ...
  4. RESEARCH. ...
  5. PREPARE. ...
  6. NOTIFY. ...
  7. PUBLICIZE. ...

What is the right to have freedom? ›

Fundamental Freedoms

(a) freedom of conscience and religion; (b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication; (c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and. (d) freedom of association.

What is right against freedom? ›

The right to freedom gives citizens basic freedom with respect to speech and expression, form associations, freedom of personal liberty, freedom to live a life of dignity, etc.
Right to Freedom.
ArticleBrief description
Article 21ARight to elementary education
Article 22Protection against arrest and detention in certain cases
3 more rows

What are two examples of a peaceful protest? ›

Possible examples of non-violent protests are the Freedom Rides, sit-ins, boycotts, and marches.

What is the sentence of protest? ›

Groups of women took to the streets to protest against the arrests. The students were protesting at overcrowding in the university hostels. They were protesting soaring prices. He picked up the cat before Rosa could protest.

What is another word for peaceful protest? ›

peaceful protest
  • demonstration.
  • protest.
  • revolt.
  • riot.
  • sit-down.
  • walkout.
  • complaint.
  • fast.

What protest made a difference? ›

March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom—August 18, 1963

More than 250,000 demonstrators marched to the Lincoln Memorial to protest the unequal treatment of African Americans. The march concluded with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivering his “I Have a Dream” speech.

What is protesting in law? ›

Protesting is the practice of opposing something (in this case a government policy) vocally or in writing. A single person can do it or a group of people who commonly oppose the same thing. Examples of protests would be the recent Anti-CAA protests and the anti-Farm laws protests in India.

What are people protesting called? ›

Protesters are people who protest publicly about an issue. The protesters say the government is corrupt and inefficient. Synonyms: demonstrator, rebel, dissident, dissenter More Synonyms of protester.

What is illegal during a protest? ›

Even without giving notice, it is not illegal to take part in a spontaneous gathering. It is however illegal to plan a protest without giving notice and to carry weapons during a protest.

What kind of behavior is lawful during a protest? ›

What is acceptable behaviour at a protest? Protests are meant to be disruptive and make statements, within reason, of course. While singing, chanting, and marching are allowed and encouraged, protesters cannot physically harm a person or vandalise public or private property.

Is it OK to go to a protest alone? ›

Protests are safer in groups. A buddy can alert others if you're harmed or arrested—and help record any violations of your First Amendment rights. If you plan to go it alone, let a local friend or family member know when and where you plan to protest and when they should expect to hear from you again.

Do you need police permission for a protest? ›

You must speak to the police if you are planning on holding a demonstration or protest. The police are the lead agency for planning discussions regarding protests and demonstrations. Find out more or apply for permission through the Metropolitan Police website.

When can the right to protest be limited? ›

When can the right to protest be limited? – to protect health or morals- to protect others' rights and freedoms.

How do you write a protest speech? ›

How to write and deliver a speech that inspires action
  1. Know your audience and what will resonate. ...
  2. Drive your speech with a story, and fuel it with data. ...
  3. Give a speech, not an essay. ...
  4. Think about the sound bite. ...
  5. Create a compelling, memorable Call to Action. ...
  6. Be yourself, and show your passion. ...
  7. Stay on message.
Nov 1, 2020

Why is nonviolent protest important? ›

“Nonviolence is a powerful, active way of working for human liberation that firmly and clearly resists and refuses to cooperate with evil and injustice, while attempting to show goodwill toward all and taking suffering on itself rather than inflicting suffering or violence on others.”

Do you need a permit to protest in California? ›

You generally will not need a permit to hold a rally in a public park or to march on the sidewalk while obeying traffic laws.

How to do a peaceful protest? ›

How to plan a peaceful protest
  1. ASSEMBLE. Gather like-minded people and make a case for why a protest action is necessary. ...
  2. ORGANIZE. Designate an effective mode of leadership or agree to opt for a more open, nonhierarchical structure.
  3. DEFINE. ...
  4. RESEARCH. ...
  5. PREPARE. ...
  6. NOTIFY. ...
  7. PUBLICIZE. ...

Can the police ban protests? ›

No, the police will only be able to impose conditions on unjustifiably noisy protests that cause harm to others or prevent an organisation from operating.

What to do at a protest? ›

Best Practices for Protesting Safely
  1. Avoid direct police contact. ...
  2. Maintain physical distancing and do not have close physical contact with others. ...
  3. Do not run. ...
  4. Use ONLY water to treat pepper spray.
  5. Protect your cell phone privacy. ...
  6. Protect your identity and the identity of others. ...
  7. Use white privilege to protect others.

What does it mean to protest and is it legal? ›

1) To complain in a public way about an act. 2) To declare something firmly and emphatically in the face of stated or implied doubt, or in response to an accusation.

What is considered a protest? ›

A protest (also called a demonstration, remonstration or remonstrance or a maree richo) is a public expression of objection, disapproval or dissent towards an idea or action, typically a political one.

Can I protest on college campus? ›

Can I protest on Campus? Yes, public universities are government entities that are bound by the Constitution, therefore students on public campuses have free speech rights protected by the First Amendment.

Can I protest in front of a business? ›

Protests can be an effective way for people to make their point and they can be used against businesses of any size. Protestors have the right to picket your business but that doesn't mean that they can break the law or interfere with your staff, clients or prevent you trading.


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