Protecting Protest: Ground-breaking findings on police treatment of Legal Observers

Legal Observers have been volunteering in Britain to defend Article 10 and 11 human rights for decades. Despite international human rights guidance that “It is a good practice for independent national Human Rights institutions and non-governmental organizations to monitor assemblies” research has revealed a culture of ignorance, inconsistency and hostility from police in Britain towards Legal Observers.

LOs experienced high levels of harassment, violence and discrimination from police, and told us how this applied to protestors too: observing that young and racialised protestors are treated more harshly by police, and that protest policing in Britain is hugely inconsistent.

With no formal ways to monitor the police’s human rights compliance, or compliance with the law, on protests, it’s extremely hard to challenge the potential for misrepresentation or misleading accounts of protest policing, as police oversee their own complaints system. LOs therefore serve as an important means of monitoring and resisting threats to Article 11 human rights in Britain.

The treatment of protest by police as a public order threat to be managed, leaves Article 11 rights at risk. This is particularly true in the context of the PCSC Act 2022, which introduces new police powers and penalties for protest related offences, including the ability to impose ‘noise conditions’ on demonstrations.

It will be absolutely crucial for LOs to effectively monitor the implementation of these new police powers on protestors, without obstruction or prohibition, in order to continue to defend Article 11 rights in Britain.

This report has tried to amplify the experiences of the volunteers of the groups we have spoken to, rather than produce a detailed set of recommendations.

  • However, it is clear that frontline officers should know by now that LOs are not protesters or stewards and are independent of the protests they monitor. This information is publicly available and has been for many years.
  • Officers should also know that attempting to impose unnecessary and unjustifiable restrictions on LOs is contrary to their legal duties to both facilitate and protect Human Rights.

It is clear that Legal Observers are often subject to the same repressive policing as the protestors they volunteer to support, and with new police powers to restrict protest being introduced with the PCSC Act, this poses a grave threat to Article 11 Rights in Britain today.

Read the full report for detailed analysis of how these trends contradict international human rights guidance.

Download the briefing document as a PDF.