The Rights of Free Speech & Assembly

It could be that you are a committed activist seeking to end the war in Afghanistan or Iraq or you may be a first time protestor complaining about a local planning decision – either way, your case may involve considerations of your right to free speech.

What does this mean in practice? Since the incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights by way of the Human Rights Act, the state has a positive duty to protect the right to free speech and the right to free assembly. These rights are not absolute, but the authorities will need to justify any interference with them.

So, the police may seek to impose conditions on demonstrations or marches under s12 or s14 of the Public Order Act; or the CPS may be considering whether to prosecute for alleged offences arising out of a peaceful protest. In either of these cases they must consider if these actions interfere with your right to free speech or assembly.

The European Court of Human Rights and the UK courts have frequently stressed the value of these rights:

  • “Freedom of expression constitutes on of the essential foundations of a democratic society, one of the basic conditions for its progress and for the development of every man”
  • “It is the mark of a civilised community that it can accommodate protests and demonstrations of this kind” which are the “lifeblood of democracy”.

Hodge Jones and Allen lawyers are well versed at using human rights arguments during criminal trials. We scrutinise and challenge police or CPS decisions aided by the wealth of knowledge accumulated over large numbers of protest cases. Where there is an argument that fundamental human rights have been breached, then we may also take action against the police – led by our Civil Rights Team.

We have used such arguments in the Fortnum and Mason case (FM145, a case involving a sit in by 145 protestors organised by UKUNCUT), in the Dale farm cases, (prosecution arising out of the protest against the eviction of travellers at Dale Farm), DSEI (protests against the arms trade), prosecutions arising out of surveillance of protestors by the police, prosecutions arising out of protests against Colnbrook Immigration Detention Centre and countless other cases.

If your case involves consideration of these issues, then contact us.

Our free speech and assembly specialists are part of our London based protest law team. We have almost four decades of experience helping clients from around the UK with a wide variety of legal matters. For expert legal advice use our contact form or call us on 0808 231 6369 today.

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