The Met police are once again printing a leaflet to distribute at anti-cuts protests. (Don’t click that link yet!)
Advice seen this morning suggests that it would be a bad idea for protesters to take and read one of these leaflets because it will legally bind protesters to a section 14 notice.
So what is this Section 14?
Section 14 of the Public Order Act 1986 gives police the power to order protesters to confine their protest to a certain place, keep the numbers down, and tell them when to stop. More information from freebeagles.org:
Does a Section 14 or 12 notice have to be in writing?
A Section 14 or notice only has to be in writing where it is issued in advance by the chief constable of police. It does not have to be in writing when it is issued at the time of the assembly by the most senior officer present.
Section 14 – Public Assemblies
As with Section 12, the senior officer may impose conditions on public assemblies, which he considers are reasonably necessary to prevent serious public disorder etc. But unlike Section 12, the conditions he may reasonably impose are in this case limited to specifying:
a) the numbers of people who may take part,
b) the location of the assembly, and
c) its maximum duration.
I find it outrageous that the police have been given this power in law. I do not believe it should ever be in the police’s power to issue orders to people, only to investigate crime and to make arrests to facilitate the trial of those that commit crimes. There is an argument that they can inform people of the law so that they are aware of what is a crime and what isn’t, but giving them extra powers to order people around and making it a crime to disobey is yet another marker on the way to a police state. (There is also the issue of restraining people in the interests of public safety. Discussion about police powers is for another day, however.) There is a way to avoid being prosecuted under section 14, however. In this case, ignorance is an excuse. Since a protesters must be aware of a section 14 notice to be found to contravene it, simply do not take or read any leaflets from the police, and do not listen to any announcements that they may try to give. More info again:
Can I be arrested if I have not been told about the conditions?
It is an offence knowingly to fail to comply with one of the Section 12 or 14 conditions. So it would be a defence to say that you had no actual knowledge of the conditions – eg because you had not been told or, in the case of a notice issued by the chief constable, there was no written notice.
The police sometimes use a megaphone to issue a Section 14 notice at the scene of an assembly, Activists arrested for breach of Section 14 are often subsequently acquitted because they simply could not hear what the police were saying and therefore had no knowledge that a Section 14 notice was in existence.