Section 12/14 of the Public Order Act
Sections 12 and 14 of the Public Order Act (1986) allow conditions to be imposed on ‘public processions’ and ‘public assemblies’.
The prosecution must prove that the person either organised or took part in a public procession or a public assembly and also knowingly failed to comply with a condition that had been imposed on the procession or assembly.
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 police may impose conditions that can restrict the place, the duration and the number of participants allowed to participate in the assembly or procession. For example, they could say something along the lines of "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.
These conditions can be imposed either on the day or in advance of the protest. If they are being imposed, it should be done by the senior police officer who is at the scene of the protest. The law states that conditions can be imposed ‘as they appear necessary to prevent serious disorder, disruption of the life of the community, or intimidation’.
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.
In order to be convicted of an offence under Section 12 or 14, the prosecution must be proved that you were aware of the conditions and then chose to break them. 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.
Under these powers, the police are able to move you (using force if needed) in order to comply with the conditions imposed on the protest. You can go limp. If you do knowingly fail to comply with the conditions, then this is an offence under the act. The police are likely to arrest you after they have given you a few warnings about the conditions and you still don't move. The police, at some point, are also likely to go in heavy handed and just arrest large numbers of people using these powers, even if the people did not know about the conditions. It is a defence to prove that the failure to comply arose from circumstances out of your control, such as you did not know about the conditions.
It’s worth noting that there are three possible charges under a Section 14, one of these is ‘participation’ and is described above. There are two other possible charges of organising and inciting. These two carry much heavier fines and in theory could carry a custodial sentence, although we are not aware of anyone being sentenced in this way previously. Where a protest has an identified organiser, that person (or persons) may commit an offence if they fail to comply with an imposed condition.
The maximum sentence for participants is a fine of £1000.
The maximum sentence for people who organised the assembly or procession is 3 months imprisonment or a fine of £2500 or both.
The maximum sentence for those who incite others taking part in a public procession or assembly to knowingly fail to comply with a condition imposed is 3 months imprisonment or a fine of £2500 or both
Sentencing starting point (for participants in assembly or procession): first time offenders would be likely to receive a fine of about £200
Sentencing starting point (for those convicted of organising or inciting): a fine or Community Punishment Order