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Rights club: Know your rights

Getting more active usually involves a beat-up pair of running shoes and some stretch pants. But, if your idea of getting active involves more placards and less pilates, you’ve come to the right place.

Before you pen that perfect protest message though, why not take a moment to familiarise yourself with your rights.

Liberty is an independent organisation that promotes equality, dignity and fairness as the foundations of a democratic society. As an entirely independent organisation Liberty fights fearlessly to uphold human rights and hold those in power to account.

Director, Martha Spurrier, places emphasis on knowing and fighting for the hard-won rights that we are all entitled to.

She says: “Freedom of expression is a core British value and fundamental to our democracy. Many freedoms we take for granted today were won by the bold actions of those who dared to speak up to the powerful through the years - right up to 2000, when the creation of the Human Rights Act meant our right to protest was finally protected in law.

“Sadly this Government has a record of shutting down opposition - whether by branding all dissenters 'extremists', restricting trade union rights or introducing authoritarian mass surveillance powers - so it's crucial those peacefully standing up for what they believe in understand the law. Only by appreciating the rights we have can we continue that tradition of upholding them."

Each of the sections below are an introduction to the things you might want to consider. They offer an overview of the rights you have and the rules you must abide by.

Right to protest

Living in a democracy means having the right to freedom expression, as well as the right to protest. In fact, the right to protest is enshrined in law under the Human Rights Act 1998, and as part of the European Convention of Human Rights. However, there are rules and regulations you must abide by. Put yourself in the best position to protest with confidence by getting to know them. Find out more about the laws surrounding protest over at Green and Black Cross - an organisation who acts against the harassment and intimidation of protesters by the police and prosecutors.

Organising a march

Marching for what you believe in is great, but it’s not as easy as just turning up. In the UK, by law you must tell the police in writing that you are organising a public march at least six days before it takes place.

You must notify them of:

  • The date and time of the march
  • The route the march will take
  • The names and addresses of the organisers.

In response, the police have the right to:

  • Limit or change the route
  • Set any other conditions
  • Limit the amount of people who can attend, and the duration of the protest
  • Stop a sit down protest if it blocks walkways or roads.

If you are organising a protest that does not involve a march you don’t have to tell police.

Find out more here

Police powers

There is often a police presence at rallies, marches and protests. They help to keep the peace and ensure everything is safe - but knowing what they can and can’t do will help if things start to deteriorate.

In the UK, a police officer can stop you and ask what you’re doing, why you’re in a specific area, or where you are going. You do not have to answer these questions.

A police officer can only stop and search you if they have reasonable grounds to suspect you are carrying drugs, weapons, stolen goods, or an item that could be used to commit a crime.

Find more on police stop and search powers here.

Green and Black Cross provide legal advice and support for protesters. Their website has a wealth of resources on the law and your rights, make sure you read up on them here. They also provide a handy card that you can print off to remind yourself of your rights, which can be useful if you are under pressure.

Taking a photo/video

With most people having a phone with a camera on them 24-7, it’s good to know what you can snap. And the answer? Everything. As long as you are on public land you have the right to film or photograph everything on it - this includes recording incidents and police personnel. The police cannot stop you, unless they have a reasonable suspicion that you are a terrorist or are taking photographs to aid an act of terrorism.

They may look at images on your device for these purposes, but it is never legal for them to delete them or force you to delete them on the spot. All of this is made clear in Sections 43 and 58 of the Terrorism Act 2000.

Watch more about it here, or read about photography and filming at protest events here.

If you are on private land then different rules apply, which usually involve getting permission from the land or property owner.

If you ever feel in danger, use common sense and stop filming.


Nobody wants to get arrested, but in the event that you are it is important to know what your rights are. There are certain rules police must abide by, and information/treatment that you are entitled to.

When arresting someone the police must:

  • Identify themselves as police
  • State that an arrest is being made
  • State the crime a person is suspected of
  • Explain the reason for arrest
  • Explain that the person being arrested is no longer free to leave.

They may use handcuffs, and/or search the person who has been arrested.

If someone resists arrest, tries to escape or becomes violent, the police can use reasonable force.

Once an arrest has been made you have the right to:

  • Free legal advice
  • To tell someone where you are
  • Medical help
  • To see the rules police must follow (Codes of practice)
  • Access to a written notice that explains your rights. You can request this in your language or ask for an interpreter to explain what the notice says and means.

Find out more about your rights while under arrest on the government website or by using the guide here.

Medical Assistance

If you are injured you have the right to medical assistance without delay. Nobody should try to prevent you or delay you from seeking the help you need.

Data Protection

In an age of social media and the internet, you can be asked to enter personal data about yourself in any number of places and websites on a daily basis. Under The Data Protection Act 1998, you have a right to find out what information the government and other organisations hold on you. This includes things like your health and educational records. You can request this data by writing to the organisation that holds it. They are required by law to comply with your request.

There are some exceptions to this, and sometimes a nominal fee is charged. Find out more here.

Request CCTV footage

There’s a lot of Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) cameras around, taking photos of you from all angles at all times of the day. It’s ever increasingly seen as an everyday part of life. But where does that footage go once it’s been captured?

You can request CCTV footage of yourself, from any organisation that holds it. To do so you must make your request in writing, stating the specific date and time of the footage, proof of your identity and a description of yourself. The CCTV owner must provide the footage within 40 days - and can charge up to £10.

Find more information and the rules and exceptions to this here.

Freedom of Information requests

The Freedom of Information Act gives anyone the right to the information held by public sector organisations (which includes the police, local and national government, schools, hospitals and publicly owned companies).

This means you can see how much your MP spent on expenses, the amount of empty houses in your town, or the amount of lost or abandoned dogs in your village. There are a number of rules and limitations surrounding FOI requests. Find out more here.

Digital rights and privacy

Smartphones are more than just a means of communication. They are the way we organise our lives, pay our bills, or do the shopping - and the amount of ways you can use smart devices is forever changing and advancing.

It’s easy to get swept up with new apps and online services, but do you ever stop to think about the information you are giving away for free? Whether it’s the amount of steps you take per day, your location, age, or buying habits, increasingly people are giving over a lot of personal information.

And there’s nothing wrong with that - but it pays to make sure you know how and why the companies and organisations holding your data are using it. Make sure you are happy with what they take and how they utilise it. Unfortunately, a lot of the time this means reading the terms or conditions, or saying no to an app if you consider it too intrusive. An increasing number of people are deleting social networks from their mobiles for that very reason.

Find out more about digital rights here.

Now you know ‘em, stand up for them

This is just a handful of the rights you are entitled to, many of which have been hard won by activists and campaigners throughout history. Now you know them, stand up for them, and never stop pushing for more!

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