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The current law

Protests around parliament are, for the most part, policed like any demonstration in the rest of the country. The Library Research Briefing Policing of protests sets out the legal framework for the policing of protests in England and Wales.

However, there are two special provisions for protests around parliament.

Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011

The 2011 Act introduced a “controlled area” around Parliament; this was then extended by the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 to include a wider area. The full “controlled area” now comprises:

  • Parliament Square garden;
  • The footways immediately adjoining the central garden of Parliament Square;
  • Highways and gardens next to the Palace of Westminster.

Activities prohibited in the “controlled area” include:

  • Unauthorised use of amplified noise equipment, like loudspeakers or loudhailers (applications for authorisation can be made to the relevant authorities);
  • Erecting or using tents or structures for facilitating sleeping;
  • Using or intending to use sleeping equipment, like sleeping bags or mattresses.

The police or authorised officers can direct people to stop these activities and leave the area; if they do not, property can be seized, and the police can use reasonable force to do so.

The Home Office has issued guidance on these provisions which provides an overview of the relevant legislation and explains how it should be implemented.

Byelaws of the Greater London Authority

In 2012, the GLA revised its Parliament Square Garden Byelaws. The Byelaws aim to secure the management of the Square, preserve order and prevent abuse. They require those wishing to protest on Parliament Square Garden to obtain prior permission to do so from the GLA. It is a criminal offence to contravene the bylaws, punishable by fine.

Previous legislation

Previously, sections 132 to 138 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (SOCPA) meant that demonstrations within a designated area of one kilometre from Parliament required prior authority from the Metropolitan Police. The police could impose conditions and loudspeakers and loudhailers were banned. The 2011 Act repealed sections 132 to 138 of SOCPA.

Before SOCPA, additional provisions for protests around Parliament took the form of Sessional Orders (in the House of Commons) and Stoppage Orders (in the House of Lords). These Orders instructed the police to make regulations to ensure MPs could access Parliament unobstructed. However, the police had no powers to arrest those who did not comply with these regulations. Therefore, legal advice given to Parliament and the Metropolitan Police was that the Orders had no legal effect.

Controversies and legal cases

Brian Haw’s long-term demonstration contributed to calls for stronger legislation than Sessional and Stoppage Orders. The Tamil Protests in 2009 similarly highlighted the inability of SOCPA to respond to spontaneous protest. In 2014, the attempts by Occupy Democracy to hold long-term demonstrations in Parliament Square tested the definitions used in the 2011 Act and the enforcement of GLA byelaws. In late 2018 and 2019 frequent protests about Brexit and other matters have raised concerns about the disruption caused by protests near parliament.

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