A long-awaited consultation is underway on new guidance for policing protests.
Three years after a commitment to review the advice to officers, the College of Policing is seeking comments on two new documents, which it says reflect lessons from recent protests.
The consultation invites feedback from people and organisations who have an interest in protests.
The documents say the starting point for policing public protest is the presumption in favour of peaceful assembly, set out in Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The Public Order Authorised Professional Practice, from the College of Policing, makes clear that obstruction of a highway, frequently used during protests against oil and gas developments, does not make a public assembly unlawful. Only unreasonable obstructions of the highway are unlawful, it says.
The document divides people attending protests into ‘supporters’, ‘protesters’ and ‘activists’. It says the use of the blanket term ‘protesters’ “may lead to incorrect assumptions”.
The document says:
“Police should educate themselves regarding the individuals, groups, and groups within groups attending a protest in order to help identify a proportionate policing response.”
The Protest Operational Advice Document, from the National Police Chiefs’ Council, replaces guidance from 2015 on policing of onshore oil and gas operations.
It has sections on the role of police liaison officers, protester removal teams and evidence and intelligence gathering.
It also has advice on recording the costs of policing protest.
The police monitoring group, Netpol, has been calling for a revision of guidance on policing anti-fracking protests.
Its coordinator, Kevin Blowe, said:
“It has taken three years of concerted pressure, with the fantastic support of former Green MEP Keith Taylor, for the National Police Chiefs Council to fulfil the promise it made to Netpol in March 2016 to review its guidance on the policing of anti-fracking protests.
“We were given another promise of some advanced warning on its launch, so it is disappointing we were only informed about the consultation late on a Friday afternoon after it had already begun.
“Netpol is planning a detailed response, including a legal opinion from the Netpol Lawyers Group that represents many of the most experienced protest solicitors and barristers in the country. We remain concerned, however, that there is insufficient advice for local forces on the particular human rights issues for long-term protests.
“This matters because the revised guidance will become a benchmark the public can use to decide if their local police are meeting their legal obligations to both facilitate and protect the right to protest.
“We plan to support other anti-fracking campaigners to make submissions too, based on their own experiences of what has often been extremely oppressive frontline policing.”