Right to Protest

Right to Protest

Defending the right to protest is a vital part of the publically-funded work undertaken at Doughty Street chambers.  Protests demonstrate democracy in action; individuals involved in protests help highlight issues, increase awareness and often bring about necessary change.  Their rights must be protected.

Doughty Street barristers represent individuals at every level of the criminal justice system, from the Magistrates’ Court, where the ‘Sticky Six’ were acquitted of criminal damage and aggravated trespass following a peaceful anti-fracking protest; to the Court of Appeal, where Brian Haw, a long-term anti-war protestor, was successful in his appeal involving a ten-year protest in Parliament Square.

We are frequently called upon to help bring about change in the law. The existence of a right to use the highway for peaceful protest was denied under English Law until the late 20th century, and until the case of Mr Jones, a protestor involved in peaceful demonstration against restriction of access to Stonehenge.  We represented Mr Jones, who then established this right.

When the Human Rights Act 1998 was passed, giving domestic effect to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), Lord Bingham recognised the importance of the rights to freedom of expression (Article 10) and freedom of assembly (Article 11 ECHR) in protest cases which, he said, created a ‘constitutional shift’ away from the ‘approach of the English common law to freedom of expression and assembly [which] was hesitant and negative, permitting that which was not prohibited”.

In Laporte, a case in which we were involved, the House of Lords found that police interference with a protest against the Iraq war was a disproportionate interference with Articles 10 and 11 ECHR.  The highest courts have in other protest cases found a breach of the right to private life under Article 8, through the police’s use of stop and search powers under terrorism legislation; or by taking and retaining photographs of demonstrators. We also acted in the case of Austin, which went to the House of Lords and then the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights. In Austin, the right to liberty under Article 5 ECHR was relied upon where the police used controversial kettling techniques towards peaceful protestors.

We are proud to support those who lawfully protest, and will continue to fearlessly defend those charged with offences arising out of those protests. This work is implemented worldwide.

For more information about our work in these areas, please see our team pages for crime and actions against the police and public authorities.