Some legal information which may be useful for Saturday’s Notts Uncut action.
Notts Uncut has been protesting against tax dodging companies in Nottingham for over a year and has been one of the most active groups in the city. For the most part, Notts Police have taken a largely hands-off approach to the demonstrations, occasionally threatening people with arrest, but not following through.
At the last Notts Uncut demonstration, the “Christmas Special” on Saturday 17th, however, the police took a much more confrontational attitude. Almost as soon as demonstrators arrived at the meeting point outside Boots, police were confrontational, asking people for their names, addresses and dates of birth. The police then sought to impose conditions on the protest under section 14 of the Public Order Act 1986. Protesters were told that they could not go within 20 yards of specified stores.
One demonstrator was arrested for failing to comply with the section 14 directions, another for remonstrating with the police about this arrest. A third person was arrested that evening at Bridewell Police Station while they were waiting for the second of the original arrestee to be released.
We do not know if this heavy-handed response was a one-off, because it was the week before Christmas and the biggest shopping day of the year, or if this will be typical of what we can now expect from Notts Police. We believe it is sensible and prudent to plan for the worst case scenario.
We will be around on the day distributing the bustcard (attached below), but you may want to print off one yourselves ahead of time. It is deliberately very short so you can easily carry it with you in case of emergencies. Unfortunately, this means there isn’t much room for legal details. If you want to know more, see this longer bustcard (pdf) produced (primarily for use in London) by Green and Black Cross.
The following includes some more detailed (but still introductory) information on a few areas of the law which might be useful.
Do you have to give the cops your details?
At the Christmas Special, police were asking for people’s names, addresses and dates of birth using stop and search powers, but not actually searching them. The law on whether you have to give your details is a mess.
While the general position is that you do not have to give your details (and it’s often worth arguing the toss), some police forces have tried to use section 50 of the Police Reform Act 2002 against protesters. This requires that you provide your details where the police “reasonably believe” that you are committing “anti-social behaviour”. (Bizarrely PCSOs seems to have similar – if not broader powers under schedule 4 of the same act.)
There doesn’t appear to be a test case about the use of this legislation and various police monitoring organisations are interested in it. In the event the police try to use section 50 against you, make sure you ask what anti-social behaviour they believe you are committing and keep copies of any paperwork they provide you with.
For a more thorough explanation of the bizarre twists and turns of the law in this area, check out this article by Andy Meinke for more information.
Conditions on protests
The police can impose conditions on on demonstrations under sections 12 and 14 of the Public Order Act 1986. Section 12 applies to marches/processions and section 14 to assemblies.
Under section 12, the most senior police officer at the march can impose conditions on a march, where he/she reasonably believes there will be serious public disorder, serious property damage or serious disruption to the life of the community. Conditions can be imposed which restrict the route, the duration, types of banner and the numbers of participants.
Section 14 gives the police powers to control public assemblies (static demonstrations). A “public assembly” is two or more people gathered together in a public place in the open air. This includes highways, parks, shopping precincts, shops and offices, restaurants, pubs or any other place to which the public have access or partial access. The senior officer at the scene can impose conditions which restrict the place, the duration and the numbers, “as they appear necessary to prevent serious disorder, disruption of the life of the community, or intimidation”.
It is an offence to knowingly breach conditions set under sections 12 or 14.
For a (much) more detailed discussion of the law in this area see the Free BEAGLES briefing
Public order offences
At the Christmas Special, the police used section 5 of the Public Order Act (“disorderly conduct” as a basis for arresting one protester. This covers behaviour which is generally not thought to be criminal. In particular it covers behaviour which falls short of violence or the threat or fear of violence. It is an offence under this section “if a person (i) uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour or (ii) displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting, within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress”. This could include e.g. swearing.
The conduct does not need to be directed towards another person, but you must have intended your conduct to be threatening, abusive or insulting or disorderly or were aware that it might be. There would have to be somebody in the vicinity of another person likely to be caused harassment, alarm (for him/herself or for a third party) or distress by the action.
A high-profile case last year confirmed that swearing at the police is not a crime because they hear such language often. This shouldn’t be taken as carte blanche to begin effing and blinding when confronted by the police. In a public place you can expect the police to argue argue that members of the public in the vicinity are likely to have been caused distress.
The police will sometimes get agitated if you are taking photographs of them, particularly when they are doing something they shouldn’t. However, guidance from Notts Police and the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) makes it clear they have no power to stop people taking photos in a public place. They have no power to compel you to delete or confiscate images without a court order.
Notts Police have recently got themselves in an embarrassing mess over this after film was seized from a student photographer, so they’ve really got no excuse for trying this on.
For links to lots more information on photographers’ rights, see this page of photography advice compiled by Nottingham Indymedia.
If you are arrested
LDMG have produced an extensive guide on what will happen and what to do if you are arrested: No Comment (pdf). This is an excellent document and well worth reading (copies should also be available from the Sumac Centre and the Sparrows’ Nest or you can contact the Nottingham Defence Campaign).
The key message is in the name: no comment. You do not need to talk to the police about anything. If you are arrested, giving your name, address and date of birth will speed up the process of being released. Any other information may be used against you and once you start talking it can be hard to stop: so don’t say anything, it is easier! If they ask you questions, just say “no comment”, until you have spoken to a solicitor and don’t sign anything.
If you’re arrested you have a right to free legal advice. You can use a “duty solicitor” but we strongly advise against. We recommend you use Banner Jones 01246 560 560 or 0797 3225894 (these numbers are also on the bustcard) who have experience of dealing with protest cases.
Nottingham Defence Campaign
If you are arrested, asked for your details or witnessed an arrest or search, please get in touch. Dealing with the police is often an unpleasant experience and intended to be isolating. The police want to keep us separate because we are at our weakest when we are alone, but we are far stronger if we work together.
Also, don’t forget about the Resisting Political Policing meeting immediately after the Notts Uncut action (Sumac Centre, 2pm), when we will be discussing how different groups in Nottingham can work together to support each other against police repression.
We are not lawyers and the law is complex and changes regularly. The above is only a very brief introduction to some of the areas of the law which we think could be useful on Saturday. We encourage people to do their own research (for a good start check out some of the information on the LDMG, Green and Black Cross websites).
Bear in mind that knowing and even complying with the law does not necessarily mean that you won’t get hassle off the police. They figuratively and literally get away with murder on a regular basis, but if we get organised they will find it much harder to undermine our effectiveness.