Can I be arrested for joining a public protest?

Can I be arrested for joining a public protest?

Protesting is seen as essential to a modern-day democracy and, therefore, you should not be arrested for staging a peaceful public protest so long as you do not break any laws.

Thousands of people protest each year, usually against the government for certain legislation it is planning to implement. The most famous protest in recent years was the protest against the Iraq war, when over a hundred thousand people marched through the streets of London in protest against the attack. More recently we have seen protests against the government’s spending cuts and austerity measures.

The Human Rights Act

It is fairly obvious that any violent behaviour during a protest will lead to you being arrested; the police have a duty to protect the peace and are still fully able to arrest you for committing crimes, as it is no defence to simply do them whilst protesting.

However, individual protesters do have certain rights courtesy of The Human Rights Act: freedom of expression and freedom of assembly are two rights given to all citizens under the Human Rights Act which further enshrine the right an individual has to protest. If an individual was not allowed to protest against the government then the whole concept of democracy would be called into question.
Criminal acts that take place during protests

If somebody cares enough about a subject to go on a public protest then it is likely that they will feel very strongly about the issue in concern. It is perhaps not surprising then that during a protest emotions can often run very high. In times like these, often acts of a criminal nature take place and the police will intervene and arrest those involved.

Simply because you are on a protest it does not mean that you cannot be arrested for things you do whilst on protest. Some of the more common criminal activities engaged in during protests include the following:

  • Trespass: You cannot simply protest anywhere you like and if you enter onto property that is private and you have not been invited onto the land then you are trespassing and the owner of the land has every right to report you to the police, who will ask you to leave and, if you refuse, they may arrest you.
  • Criminal damage: If you intentionally destroy or damage property belonging to another, or be reckless as to whether any such property would be damaged as a result of your actions, you are committing criminal damage. A recent example of this was during the protests after the financial crises erupted when many people protested against the large banking institutions. Some protesters went too far and smashed windows of certain banks and were duly arrested for criminal damage.
  • Assault/ABH: Unfortunately, often during protests assault or actual bodily harm (ABH) will occur when protesters turn violent. It should be noted that it is normally the extreme minority of protestors that use physical violence, but if they do so they can, of course, be arrested accordingly.

Taking part in a public protest is an inherent right as a citizen of a democratic country; however, this does not mean that during the protest you have the right to commit any acts of criminal activity. 

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