Should I Tell the Police About an Upcoming Action?

Our advice is not to talk to the police about your action. 

If you begin talking to the police about your protest, then there is more likely to be an increased police presence at your protest. By opening up conversation with them, you also put the police in a better position to impose conditions on your protest under Sections 12 or 14 of the Public Order Act. The police may also demand that you change your route as part of the liaising process.

You may also be singled out as an 'organiser' or a 'leader' which could potentially lead to more serious charges in the future. It provides them with details of people in the group and also could lead to information gathering tactics (listening in on phone calls or intercepting text messages) of yourself or of others involved in the protest group. The police also do, sometimes, reach out to people they see as 'organisers'. Sometimes this is done through social media and sometime the police do call up activists who they suspect are 'organisers' of an action. In this situation, we recommend that you answer 'No Comment' to all questions they ask. Please also do get in touch if this is something that happens to you.

Next, we will address the mater of legal obligation of telling the police about your action:

Static Protests

If your protest is not a moving one (i.e. a static demonstration at a set location or a vigil), then there is no legal obligation for you to inform the police about the action

Marches / Moving Protests

There is a legal obligation to notify police of a planned march, although people often choose not to do so.

Communicating with the police ahead of an action can be problematic, as discussed above. However, the law states that if you organise a march or procession you must give the police 6 clear days notice in writing. This applies if the march/procession is: intended to show support for or opposition to the views or actions of any group; publicise a cause or campaign; mark or commemorate an event. The law does not state a minimum number of participants – even 2 or 3 people could be counted as a march.

The law relates specifically to the organiser of the protest – individual participants do not have to check whether the police have been notified.

In practice, it has proved very difficult for the police to prove who has organised a march – unless it is obvious from names on Facebook events or emails. If a march is organised non-hierarchically, it is unclear legally who (if anyone) is obliged to notify the police.

Advance notice does not need to be given where it is not reasonably practical to do so, if for example it is spontaneous or very short notice.

Many people choose not to notify the police of their planned march. We are aware of only two attempts to bring such a case in the last 16 years, both of which were dropped. Regardless of whether or not you have notified the police of the march, the march itself remains legal and protected by articles 10 and 11 of the Human Rights Act.

If you are trying to decide whether or not to talk to the police ahead of an action, please do get in touch.

 

Parts of the above have been adapted from or (in some cases) taken from the Green and Black Cross Guide on whether activists should engage with the police before the day of your action.