As reported in the Evening Standard and on the BBC and in the "Mayor of London" weblog, spontaneous protests, even if they only involve a single person, are now banned in an area that extends up to 1 km from Parliament Square in London.
This ban has been imposed under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005, a law which was passed just before the general election in the "wash up" period after it was called. Sections 132 to 138 set out both the nature of the ban and the requirements for organising protests and how the designated area is set out. Key features are:
- it is an offence to organise, take part in or carry out a demonstration without authorisation in any public place within the designated area (section 132),
- the offence of organising a demonstration in the designated area without authorisation is punishable by upto 51 weeks in prison and a fine (section 136),
- the offence of taking part in or carrying out a demonstration in the designated area without authorisation is punishable by a fine (section 136),
- to get authorisation for a demonstration in the designated area one must apply to the Metropolitan Police 6 days beforehand if reasonably practical or 24 hours beforehand otherwise, and must do so in person or in writing using registered post (section 133),
- the police must authorise the demonstration but can impose any of the following conditions; restrictions on the length and times of the protest, restrictions on the numbers who can protest, restrictions on the number and size of the banners or placards used, restrictions on where the protest can take place; maximum permissable noise levels. (Section 134) The use of loud hailers is banned. (section 137)
- violating the conditions of a demonstration is an offence punishable by upto 51 weeks imprisonment and or a fine in the case of the organisers or a fine for other protestors (Section 134),
- it is an offence to incite someone to commit any of the offences described above (Section 134) punishable by upto 51 weeks in prison and/or a fine
This statutory instrument was produced under this section and thus gives effect to this part of the Act and describes the designated area that will come into effect from the 1st August 2005.
Note that under the terms of the Act unauthorised protests are not allowed in any public place, that is any place the public have access to, within the designated area. Thus it covers the public areas of any pubs, hotels, conference centres or other buildings the public have access to.
Also the idea of a "demonstration" is not defined in the Act, leaving unanswered questions such as "Does wearing a T-shirt with a political slogan count as a demonstration?" and "Does organising a meeting of a political group inside a bar in the designated area count as an unauthorised demonstration?".