Conditions Placed on a Protest

Sections 12 and 14 Public Order Act 1986

Sections 12 and 14 of the Public Order Act 1986 allow conditions to be imposed on ‘public processions’ and ‘public assemblies’ respectively.

A ‘public procession’ constitutes any number of people (the law does not specify a minimum) moving along a route.

A ‘public assembly’ is two or more people gathered together in a public place. This includes highways, parks, shopping precincts, shops and offices, restaurants, pubs or any other place to which the public have access or partial access.

The most senior police officer at the site of the 'public procession’ or ‘public assembly’ may impose "such conditions as appear necessary" to prevent disorder, damage, disruption, impact or intimidation if the officer reasonably believes that:

  1. it may result in serious public disorder, serious damage to property or serious disruption to the life of the community
  2. "the noise generated by people taking part may result in serious disruption to the activities of an organisation which are carried on in the vicinity of the procession"
  3. "the noise generated by persons taking part in the procession may have a relevant impact on persons in the vicinity of the procession", AND that the impact may be significant OR "the purpose of the persons organising it is the intimidation of others with a view to compelling them not to do an act they have a right to do, or to do an act they have a right not to do"

Sections 73, 74 and 75 of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Court Act 2022 have added some specific examples of cases where a public procession or assembly may cause serious disruption to the life of the community. These include where:

  1. "it may result in a significant delay to the delivery of a time-sensitive product to consumers of that product, or
  2. it may result in a prolonged disruption of access to any essential goods or any essential service, including, in particular, access to
    1. the supply of money, food, water, energy or fuel,
    2. a system of communication,
    3. a place of worship,
    4. a transport facility,
    5. an educational institution, or
    6. a service relating to health."

This means if a protest you are attending affects any of the above, then it more likely Section 12 or 14 conditions will be imposed. For the purposes of Sections 12 and 14, a 'time-sensitive product' means "a product whose value or use to its consumers may be significantly reduced by a delay in the supply of the product to them". 

In relation to the "noise generated by persons taking part" in public processions or assemblies mentioned earlier, the noise may have a 'relevant impact' on persons in the vicinity of the procession if it could "result in the intimidation or harassment of persons of reasonable firmness" who are likely to be in the area OR if the noice may cause such persons to suffer alarm or distress. The senior police officer should also take in to account the actual number of people who may actually experience an impact, the duration of the impact and the likely intensity of the impact.

If the police decide to impose conditions before the start of the procession, then it must be the chief officer of police themself who impose the conditions and the conditions must be in writing.

The police may impose conditions that can restrict the location, the duration and the number of participants allowed to participate in the assembly or procession. For example, 'No more than 20 people allowed at Marble Arch and they must leave by 3pm today'. They will often set up a "protest pen" and ask you and the people around you to move into it.

A senior officer may make an announcement, or sometimes visual displays or leaflets are used. Other officers will usually go around the protest and speak to individuals and explain the conditions to them. They will be filming themselves (using their body worn cameras) telling you about the conditions, so they can use this as evidence in court later.

Do not pass on leaflets, make announcements, or share announcements on social media about conditions under Section 12 or 14. This is doing the police’s work for them. It is often very difficult to hear, or comply with, conditions and so by passing on the message you yourself and other people liable for conviction under the act.

Conditions may be more likely to be imposed if you talk to the police ahead of your action. If you or your group are considering this, please read our guide on notifying the police of actions.

A person who takes part in a ‘public procession’ or ‘public assembly’ and fails to comply with a condition imposed on it is guilty of an offence. It must be proved that the person knew or ought to have known about the conditions imposed. If convicted, the maximum sentence is a fine of £2500. First time offenders would be likely to receive a fine of about £200-300 and a conditional discharge. It is a defence for the person to prove that the failure to comply arouse from circumstances beyond their control.

A person who organises a ‘public procession’ or ‘public assembly’ and fails to comply with a condition imposed on it is guilty of an offence. It must be proved that the person knew or ought to have known about the conditions imposed. If convicted, the maximum sentence is imprisonment for a term not exceeding 51 weeks or a fine of £2500 or both. First time offenders would be likely to receive a fine or a Community Order. It is a defence for the person to prove that the failure to comply arouse from circumstances beyond their control. 

A person who incites others to take part in a ‘public procession’ or ‘public assembly’ and to not comply with a condition imposed on it is guilty of an offence. If convicted, the maximum sentence is imprisonment for a term not exceeding 51 weeks or a fine of £2500 or both. First time offenders would be likely to receive a fine or a Community Order

Following the commencement of the PCSC Act 2022, the Home Secretary now also has the power to amend Section 12 and 14 for the purposes of making further provisions as to what counts as "serious disruption to the activities of an organisation which are carried on in the vicinity of a public procession" or "serious disruption to the life of the community". 

Although in some parts above it reads that the maximum sentence is "51 weeks", this is currently to be read as 6 months. This is until Section 281(5) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 is bought into force.