During the pandemic, the main regulations impacting the right to protest have been the ‘restrictions on gatherings’ and (when still in force) the ‘stay at home’ rule. At times, there has been no specific exemption to accommodate protests, making them all effectively illegal.
Currently (since 24 May 2021), provisions are in place allowing outdoor gatherings (including protests) of up to 15 persons without conditions and of up to 500 persons if a risk assessment has been undertaken.
However, CAJ has a number of concerns about how the right to protest will be protected in NI going forwards, particularly if restrictions are tightened again in future.
We have published a briefing paper highlighting several key issues, including the following:
- There is a risk that any future tightening of the regulations will result in no express provision for safe protests.
- There is a lack of clarity as to whether socially distanced groups of protestors are to be considered separate gatherings.
- Under the current regulations, gatherings of 15 to 500 people require an approved risk assessment. Such a process will not be familiar all groups who organise protests (for which, in normal times, there are usually no administrative requirements), yet there appears to be no guidance or outreach on this issue.
- Enforcement powers throughout the regulations remain vague, uncodified, and reminiscent of the special powers acts.
Our full briefing can be downloaded here.