chapter  25
18 Pages


Like freedom of speech, the right of individuals to gather together to express their views is an important democratic safeguard, since criticism of those in power (whether justified or not) can be made much more forcibly by 20 people than by one lone voice. As with freedom of speech, the protection extends to non-political debate and protests against the actions of private parties, such as an anti-vivisection vigil held outside a private laboratory. As a vehicle for political discussion, public assemblies provide generally the only opportunity to people who are not members of the media to make a point, either about law reform or about government policy generally, when they feel that other avenues (such as the electoral process) have been closed off to them. The law on public order should, arguably, recognise that peaceful demonstrations sometimes prove ineffective and it should, thus, be open to citizens to make their point forcibly, even disruptively. If lying in front of a bulldozer is the only way to prevent a motorway being built through a green belt area, it may (in some circumstances) be inappropriate to prosecute the protester. However, because this kind of ‘direct action’ threatens the rights and freedoms of others, the law tends to accord more protection to public order than to public protest.