The Daily Telegraph
Police reminded of the ‘right to protest’ for anti-monarchists
POLICE officers across the country have been reminded that people “absolutely have the right to protest”, after a number of anti-monarchist demonstrators were arrested and charged.
A 22-year-old man who heckled the Duke of York as he walked behind the coffin of Elizabeth II in Edinburgh and a woman who held up an “abolish monarchy” banner during the proclamation of the King have been charged with breach of the peace.
At the weekend, a 45-year-old man was arrested after protesting at an event in Oxford. In Parliament Square in London, police were filmed asking a barrister holding up a blank piece of paper for his details. Paul Powlesland, 36, a barrister from Barking, east London, said he was told he risked being arrested if he wrote “not my King” on a blank piece of paper he was holding. After footage of the incident went viral, Scotland Yard said it had reminded its officers that people do have a legal right to protest.
Deputy Assistant Commissioner Stuart Cundy said on Monday that: “We’re aware of a video online showing an officer speaking with a member of the public outside the Palace of Westminster earlier today.
“The public absolutely have a right of protest and we have been making this clear to all officers involved in the extraordinary policing operation currently in place and we will continue to do so.”
The National Police Chiefs’ Council also said it had issued guidance to forces reminding officers that the ability to protest was a fundamental part of democracy and a long-established right in Britain.
The decision to arrest or challenge protesters during the week of mourning for the late Queen provoked criticism of the policing approach. Nick Aldworth, the former national co-ordinator for UK counter-terrorism policing, said: “I met the Queen on countless occasions across my career and the one thing I’m pretty certain about was that she was an advocate of democracy and she would not want that level of disruption and interference with legitimate protest,” he said. “They didn’t act appropriately, it’s overzealous.”
Police Scotland said a man who was filmed shouting at the Duke of York, calling him a “sick old man” as the Queen’s cortège passed along Edinburgh’s Royal Mile had been charged with breach of the peace.
A spokesman said: “He was released on an undertaking to appear at Edinburgh Sheriff Court at a later date and a report will be sent to the Procurator Fiscal.”
However, the decision to charge a woman with the same offence for holding up a banner caused consternation.
David Davis, a former Cabinet minister, said he had written to the Chief Constable of Police Scotland about the decision to charge the woman.
In the letter he said: “It is not for me to interfere with the judicial process. However, with the accession of our new monarch I would hope the police would continue to respect the right to free speech.”
He went on: “I speak as a strong monarchist but nevertheless I hope members of the public will remain free to share their opinions and protest in regard to issues about which they feel strongly.”
Ruth Smeeth, chief executive of Index on Censorship, said the arrests were “deeply concerning”, adding: “The fundamental right to freedom of expression, including the right to protest, is something to be protected regardless of circumstance.”
Silkie Carlo, director of Big Brother Watch, said: “If people are being arrested simply for holding protest placards then it is an affront to democracy and highly likely to be unlawful.”
Jodie Beck, policy and campaigns officer at Liberty, said: “Protest is not a gift from the State, it is a fundamental right. Being able to choose what, how, and when we protest is a vital part of a healthy and functioning democracy.”