Is protest still legal?

Have you ever been on a march or a demo? Maybe there is an issue which affects you, and other people like you, such as benefit cuts, a lack of legal aid, or the cost of living, that you think the government or council should do more to sort out. Or perhaps you feel passionate about climate change or racial inequality and want faster action. These are the kinds of issues that people protest about every week in the UK.
Protest is still legal!
  • Your right to peaceful protest is protected in law.
  • The government and police have always had the power to limit how and when people protest.
  • Recently new laws have given the police even more powers to control protests, and the courts powers to hand out tougher punishments.

But you still have the right to protest!

Read on to find out more.

New protest laws

New protest laws

When we talk about ‘new protest laws’ in this guide we mean sections of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act (PCSC)  2022 and Public Order Act 2023. We have combined them here to keep things simple, and because they both give the police more power to manage protests.

New protest laws have made the headlines recently. But despite these new rules, your right to protest is still protected by human rights laws. But the new protest laws mean that some of the things that get people to pay attention, like making a lot of noise, and blocking roads, can now get you into more trouble.

Below we set out the key things that have changed.

1.      More conditions on protests

The police have always had the power to put conditions on protests to stop serious damage and disruption and to prevent other people from being intimidated. The conditions can be to do with the time of the protest, for example, or where it takes place, or how many people can be involved. But the new laws have widened these powers.

If you do not follow the conditions the police have put on a protest you may commit a criminal offence, which means that the police can arrest you.

2.      New protest-related offences

The new protest laws have introduced more potential crimes that protesters can be charged with. You can see a summary of the new offences in New protest laws - a beginner's guide.

3.      Tougher penalties

There are new and increased punishments, including fines and time in prison, for the kinds of offences protesters may be charged with.

Serious Disruption Prevention Orders (SDPOs)
Nicknamed ‘protest banning orders’ SDPOs are a type of court order that enable the courts to set conditions on what someone can or cannot do. 

4.      More stop and search

The new protest laws will give the police new powers to stop and search people in protest situations. These powers are not yet in force, but are likely to be in the next few months.

See more information on the new protest laws from Liberty:

Don’t be put off! If you feel strongly about an issue, you still have the right to protest about it.

Problems when protesting

We know that you might be worried about getting arrested or facing other problems when protesting. In particular we have heard concerns from disabled protesters, and others at greater risk of discrimination, for example, being LGBTQ+, from an ethnic minority background, or from another country.

Below we explain a bit more about these issues and signpost you to more information and support.

Risk of arrest

We all have the right to come together and express our views. These rights are protected by human rights laws. But the new protest laws do mean that there are now more situations where protesters may be arrested. If you want to avoid getting arrested, it helps to know your rights and understand when arrest is more likely to happen. For example, if you glue yourself to a road, or lock on to the entrance of a building, the risk of arrest is higher than taking part in a march, and moving on if and when the police tell you to.

But if you are arrested there are three key things to know:

1. You do not have to say anything after you are arrested.
The police have to take note of any comments you make when you are arrested. Even if they are nice to you, they are still trying to investigate a crime that they think you committed. Any careless statement you make whether true or not may be used against you, for example, if you ended up in a criminal trial. There is no such thing as an ‘off the record’ discussion.

2. Do not go into an interview without a legal representative.
What is said and what is not said in a police interview can have significant consequences. Don’t think, ‘I don’t need legal help because I’ve done nothing wrong’ or that getting a lawyer will delay your release. You are entitled to legal assistance with your police interview for free, so take advantage of it.

3. Get a solicitor with experience of protests.
It is important to have a solicitor who has experience of representing protestors. General criminal defence firms and ‘duty solicitors’ who are available at the police station, may not be able to defend you as effectively as an expert protest solicitor.

You are allowed to ask for your own solicitor. So, it is worth taking details of a suitable firm of solicitors with you on a protest, in case you are arrested. The police will not provide details of firms. Organisations which can recommend experienced protest law solicitors firms include the Network for Police Monitoring (Netpol).

Risk of discrimination

We know that many people, including disabled people, are concerned about being treated unfairly on a protest. But there are laws to protect us from discrimination when protesting. For example, if you are disabled the police may have to take steps to reduce any disadvantage you might experience as a disabled person because of their ways of working. This means that if you are treated unfairly you can complain and take action.

For more information see:

Legal observers
Protest organisers will often arrange for volunteers to act as legal observers (‘LOs’) on protests. They are not acting as lawyers but aim to record inappropriate or unlawful action by police. In light of the new protest powers, the role of LOs is even more important. Groups which may be able to provide LOs for a protest are listed in More help and information on protest.

More help and information on protest

●       Liberty provides information on protest in general, the rights of disabled protesters, the rights of LGBTQ+ protesters of colour, and advice on human rights.

●       Black Protest Legal Support provides free legal information and support (including by providing legal observers) to people on protests which raise racial issues.

●       The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) has immigration information for protesters.

●       Green and Black Cross offer guides to dealing with police on protests including information on being Trans and protesting. They also offer training and provide legal observers.

●       Netpol provides guides on protest rights and a list of protest solicitors.

●       You can find information on protest from a range of organisations on Law for Life’s Advicenow website.

About this guide

The information in this guide applies to people in England and Wales.

The law is complicated. We have simplified things in this guide. Please don’t rely on this guide as a complete statement of the law. We recommend you get more information from the sources we have suggested, and try to get advice from experience protest law solicitors.

This guide was written by Law for Life’s Advicenow project. Law for Life would like to thank the police and protest working group for their input, and Owen Greenhall, Barrister, at Garden Court Chambers, for peer reviewing the guide.


Funded by the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust.

The Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust has supported this work in recognition of the importance of the issue. The facts presented and the views expressed in this report are, however, those of the authors and not necessarily those of the Trust. 

November 2023

Updated April 2024

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