Obstructing Police

Section 89 Police Act 1996.

Section 89 of the Police Act is more commonly used against activists when they’re accused of obstructing a police officer while that officer is attempting to do their job. There are more rare incidents when someone is accused of assaulting an officer. Obstruction of an officer includes physically obstructing them when they are doing something, but it also includes doing an act that forces the officer away from their duties. It can also include things like giving fake details to the police. Note that simply refusing to give your details is not obstruction (though you should read our article relating to “Giving your Details and Carrying I.D.” for more information).

The police will often threaten to arrest people for obstruction when the activist is attempting to watch the arrest of a friend, even if they’re not actually trying to get involved or de-arrest the person. Whether you’d actually be arrested or if it’s just an empty threat depends entirely on the officer you’re dealing with. Use your discretion (as always).

The Law.

Section 89 Police Act 1996 – Assaults on constables.

(1)Any person who assaults a constable in the execution of his duty, or a person assisting a constable in the execution of his duty, shall be guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale, or to both.

(2)Any person who resists or wilfully obstructs a constable in the execution of his duty, or a person assisting a constable in the execution of his duty, shall be guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding one month or to a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale, or to both.

(3)This section also applies to a constable who is a member of a police force maintained in Scotland or Northern Ireland when he is executing a warrant, or otherwise acting in England or Wales, by virtue of any enactment conferring powers on him in England and Wales.

(4)In this section references to a person assisting a constable in the execution of his duty include references to any person who is neither a constable nor in the company of a constable but who—
(a)is a member of an international joint investigation team that is led by a member of a police force or by a member of the National Criminal Intelligence Service or of the National Crime Squad; and
(b)is carrying out his functions as a member of that team.

(5)In this section “international joint investigation team” means any investigation team formed in accordance with—
(a)any framework decision on joint investigation teams adopted under Article 34 of the Treaty on European Union;
(b)the Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters between the Member States of the European Union, and the Protocol to that Convention, established in accordance with that Article of that Treaty; or
(c)any international agreement to which the United Kingdom is a party and which is specified for the purposes of this section in an order made by the Secretary of State.
(6)A statutory instrument containing an order under subsection (5) shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.

Explanation and examples.

The following videos show what happened during a peaceful demonstration outside a company that supplies animal testing laboratories with laboratory equipment. While the videos don’t show any of the demonstration before the police interference, they show everything that happened during dealing with the police.

The first activist placed under arrest was arrested under section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 for his (peaceful) use of the megaphone. Activists had been asked at a previous location if they would stop using the megaphone as there was a person about to come out of the building with a sleeping child. The activists did so until the person was far enough away from them. In the situation in this video, activists thought that the police were again just passing on a request to stop using the megaphone, but knew that the officers had no right or power to actually stop them from using the megaphone. Unfortunately the police didn’t realise that they had no power or right to do so and proceeded to unlawfully arrest one person.

Another activist attempts to physically stop the sergeant from arresting her friend, while the other gains video footage of the incident. They are both subsequently arrested for obstructing an officer. While one of them may have actually been doing so, the other was merely filming the arrest of her friend/s… whether this constituted an offence under s89 would have had to be debated in court, but we believe that, as she was clearly not getting in the way, the officer could have easily carried on arresting her friends unhindered, albeit being asked awkward questions as he did so.

This video is the “sequel” to the above video, taken by the 4th activist at the scene. As his friends are being arrested, he also attempts to gain video evidence of what is going on – at one point in the video, you can hear him say that it’s the only way they’ll have an actual account of what happened during the incident. Despite wandering on to private land (due to the fact that his friends are being detained there) he does not try to de-arrest the others or get involved in their arrests. He simply wants to gain evidence of their handcuffing, the broken megaphone on the floor and the identities of the police. He was also arrested, having been chased and tackled to the floor by the sergeant.

You could argue that the activists appear cocky at times in the videos, but this is not against the law. They are obviously frustrated and confused about being arrested unlawfully. We will focus on the allegation of “obstructing an officer in the execution of his duty” and not on the behaviour of the activists post-arrest. One of the important phrases in this section is “in the execution of his duty”. If the officer is not acting lawfully at the point when you’re accused of obstructing him/her, the allegation should not apply.
In this case, the activists believe that the case was dropped against those arrested for obstruction because the officers had unlawfully used section 5 Public Order Act to make the initial arrest. Therefore they were not acting in the execution of their duty.

Additionally, while there may be some evidence of obstruction that could be used against the activist who is trying to physically obstruct the sergeant, there would have been a much weaker case against the other two activists (especially the last one to be arrested) if the case had gone to court.

Despite the fact that the police had some footage of their own (filming from inside the police car) and had also seized the two cameras which took these videos as evidence, the decision was made that there was not enough evidence to take the case any further. Activists proceeded to make a case against the police for unlawfully arresting all four of them and were successful. See our article on “Making Complaints and Suing the Police” for more information.