A quick summary here of the development of public order law in relation to space and protest and the freedom of assembly.
Highway Act 1835, s72 – used to regulate public processions
Metropolitan Police Act 1839 s52 and s54
Town Police Clauses Act 1847 s21 – ‘the commissioners may from time to time make orders … for preventing obstruction of the streets within the limits of the special act in all times of public processions, rejoicings or illuminations, and in any case when the streets are thronged or liable to be obstructed’.
Trafalgar Square (Regulation of Meetings) Bill 1888 – though omitted in the royal speech 1889, response to the 1887 riots
Public Meetings in Open Spaces bill July 1888 – clause 1 stated that where the public had used any open space for public meetings for the last 20 years, they could be deemed to ‘have acquired an absolute and inalieable right’ to it
Public Meeting Act 1908 – in response to the suffragettes
Processions (Regulations) Bill 1932 – in response to the NUWM’s national hunger marches, especially the 4th march in October 1932
Public Order Act 1936 – police could prohibit processions in advance, proscribed the wearing of political uniforms, revised and nationalised existing local provisions relating to threatening and abusive behaviour (Channing, The Police, p. 16). passed after Cable Street and the BUF marches.
Public Order Act 1986 – common law offences of riot, rout, unlawful assembly and affray were abolished under s9 and replaced with statutory offences of riot, violent disorder and affray (Channing, The Police, p. 17). Passed in response to the industrial unrest of 1984-5
Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 – increased police powers of stop and search. part V introduced the new definition of aggravated trespass. Passed in response to new age travellers, anti-roads protesters and also increased restrictions on gypsies and travellers.
Beatty v Gillbanks (1881-2) LR 9 QBD 308 – considering the purpose and conduct of the assembly in judging whether it should be considered unlawful. Involved the Salvation Army vs the ‘Skeleton armies’ opposition to their processions.
Duncan v Jones (1936) 1 KB 218 – Lord Hewitt CJ: ‘English Law does not recognise any special right of public meeting for political or other purposes’. Stamp LJ: ‘liberty to speak, the liberty to assemble, which is more consistent with the notion of residual freedom than expressly defined and legally protected rights’.
Hubbard v Pitt (1976) QB 142 – Lord Denning cited Barnard v Perryman, ‘as long as all is done peaceably and in good order, without threats or incitement to violence or obstruction to traffic’.
Rural and urban spaces
The legal scholarship on the 1986 and 1994 Criminal Justice and Public Order acts has a strong focus on the rural, reflecting on the freedom of movement and assembly of one section of society that the legislation targeted, namely new age travellers gathering at Stonehenge and at raves in the countryside.
Iain Channing’s book, The Police and the Expansion of Public Order Law in Britain, seeks to cover all the legislation relating to public order and its policing. It examines for example the 1936 legislation passed against political processions in the wake of Cable Street. But the book is a little patchy and jumps around a lot, so the analysis is somewhat difficult to follow.
Nicholas Fyfe, ‘Law and order policy and the spaces of citizenship in contemporary Britain’, Political Geography, 14: 2 (1995), 177-89
Gina Clayton, ‘Reclaiming public ground: the right to peaceful assembly’, Modern Law Review, 63: 2 (2000), 252-8
Iain Channing, The Police and the Expansion of Public Order Law in Britain, 1829-2014 (Routledge, 2015)
Jon Lawrence, ‘Fascist violence and the politics of public order in inter-war Britain: the Olympia debate revisited ‘, Historical Research, 76: 192 (2003)
David Mead, The New Law of Peaceful Protest: Rights and Regulation in the Human Rights Act Era (Hart Publishing, Oxford, 2010)
Richard Card and Richard War, ‘Access to the countryside: the impact of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act’, Journal of Planning and Environmental Law (1996)
Penny English, ‘Disputing Stonehenge: law and access to a national symbol’, Entertainment Law, 1: 2 (2002), 1-22
David Sibley, ‘Endangering the Sacred: nomads, youth cultures and the English countryside’, in Paul Cloke and Jo Little, eds, Contested Countryside Cultures: Rurality and Socio-Cultural Marginalisation (Routledge, 1997)
P. A. J. Waddington, Liberty and Order: public order policing in a capital city (UCL Press, 1994)
TNA, HO 144/18294, ‘Police: powers and duties of the police at meetings, processions and demonstrations’ 1932?
TNA, HO 144/20159, ‘Disturbances: Public Order Bill 1936’
TNA, HO 342/369, review of Public Order Act 1936, ‘right to demonstrate’, 1980-1
TNA, HO 325/305, Public order acts, from 1978-9
TNA, MEPO 3/2940, fascist disorder at public meetings, 1934-8
HC Deb 21 Sept 1886 vol 309 c1103