Getting the balance right? An inspection of how effectively the police deal with protests
On 21 September 2020, the Home Secretary commissioned us to conduct an inspection into how effectively the police manage protests. This followed several protests, by groups including Extinction Rebellion, Black Lives Matter and many others.
In recent years, increasing amounts of police time and resources have been spent dealing with protests. In April and October 2019, Extinction Rebellion brought some of London’s busiest areas to a standstill for several days. The policing operation for the two extended protests cost £37m, more than twice the annual budget of London’s violent crime taskforce.
Protests are an important part of our vibrant and tolerant democracy. Under human rights law, we all have the right to gather and express our views. But these rights are not absolute rights. That fact raises important questions for the police and wider society to consider about how much disruption is tolerable, and how to deal with protesters who break the law. A fair balance should be struck between individual rights and the general interests of the community.
We inspected ten police forces with recent experience of policing protests and consulted a wide range of other bodies, including protest groups and – through a survey of over 2000 people – the general public.
We offer our qualified support for five Home Office proposals for changes in the law. And we make two recommendations for further changes in the law.