The Right to a Peaceful Protest

Peacefully Protesting

Protesting without the use of violence has had an abundant appearance throughout history. From t-shirt printing and picket signs, to public assembly and mass marching, many different non-violent protest methods have been thoroughly explored and implemented. In fact, the right to a peaceful protest is an intrinsic part of a democratic society and is a long and respected tradition within the UK.

This is however not an absolute right with some qualifications existing recently due to the threat posed by terrorism and also when concerned with anti-social behaviour.

Marches and Processions

The Public Order Act 1986 makes a distinction between processions and assemblies. A procession is said to be defined as people moving together along a route whereby a static protest is termed an assembly.

Processions are an extremely effective tool to voice opinions and to campaign about specific issues but they are also heavily regulated by legislation. Specifically the Pubic Order Act.

Organisers and Advance Notice


The organiser of the procession or march is not specifically defined but will usually be selected prior to the event in the case of a large organized march but in the case of a smaller march it can be anyone who has taken the lead in organization.

Advance Notice

The organiser in the vast majority of marches will be required to inform the police concerning the march. Specifically notice should be given to the police if the march is intended to:

  • Demonstrate support for or oppositions to the views of any group
  • Publicise a cause or campaign
  • Mark or commemorate an event

Notice is not required if the march is purely spontaneous or if it is for a funeral procession.

Requirements of Notice

Is notice is required to be given to the police the following elements need to be present:

  • The date of the procession
  • The time that it will start
  • The proposed route
  • The name and address of the organiser

Where does the notice need to go?

The notice should be delivered to a police station in the area either by hand or by post and must be six days in advance effectively meaning a weeks notice should be given.


The organiser of a march will have committed an offence if:

  • Notice was not given as required
  • The date, starting time or route differs from that given on the notice.

Conditions Imposed by the Police

Prior to the March

There is no guarantee that once notified to the police that a march will go ahead. In advance of the march the Police Constable – in the case of London this will be the Metropolitan Police Commissioner – can impose conditions which relate to the specific route, the number of people allowed to attend the march, the duration of the march, the types of banners which will be able to be used, an even restrict entry to a public place.

If the conditions are to be imposed prior to the march then this must be done so in writing to the organiser.

During the March

During the march the most senior officer present can impose similar kinds of conditions but without the need to do so in writing. This can only be done however, if the senior officer reasonably believes that the march may result in the following:

  • Serious public disorder
  • Serious damage to property
  • Serious disruption to the life of the community

Criminal Offence

Failure to adhere to any of the conditions imposed on a march whether they be imposed prior to or during the march will constitute a criminal offence.  There will be different sanctions imposed on both the organiser and the participants of the march.

Police Banning Orders

Under the Public Order Act the Police are given powers to ban all or a class of processions or marches in a specified area for up for three months.

Static Demonstrations and Assemblies

In the case of static demonstrations there is no need to inform the Police prior to the demonstration or assembly taking place.

What is meant by an assembly?

An assembly can be constituted by more than one person but must be taking place in a public place. The definition of public place can constitute a highway or a pavement and any other place where members of the general public have access.

Public Order Act

Under the Public Order Act the police are provided with specific powers to control assemblies. They are not however provided with a power to ban assemblies as is the case with processions or marches.


Under the Public Order Act the police can impose conditions on an assembly in relation to the following:

  • The location of the assembly
  • The maximum number of people who are able to participate in the assembly
  • The maximum length of duration of the assembly.

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For more information on:

  • Human Rights
  • Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005
  • Metropolitan Police Commissioner
  • Offences under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005
  • Further Police Powers
  • Terrorism Act 2000
  • * Section 44 searches have been ruled illegal by the European Court of Human Rights  The power to use them against individuals, has been now removed by the Home Secretary. 
  • Powers to prevent a breach of the Peace
  • Anti-Social Behaviour