When Does ‘Peaceful Protest’ Cross The Line?

The right to peaceful protest in the UK has been guaranteed for many many years, and is an essential freedom. But at what point does ‘peaceful protest’ begin to infringe on other people’s rights, to travel or to go about their own peaceful business? And if it does, should you be required to change your mode of protest?

Extinction Rebellion (XR), a green-Marxist movement that insists capitalism will destroy the planet within something like 15 years, was described by a former Scotland Yard head of counter-terrorism as an extremist anarchist group when he called on police to stop their “soft touch” approach. ‘He said he had uncovered evidence that XR leaders advocated “revolution” to overturn capitalism, mass protest and law-breaking aimed at achieving a breakdown of democracy and the state – an intent many of its middle class and celebrity backers appeared unaware of.’ (Telegraph 16 July 2019).

Their protests do seem to show little regard for others in their disruptive effect as they block roads and thoroughfares through which others wish to travel. What seems more concerning is the apparent unwillingness of Police to intervene to minimise disruption to others. They do seem somewhat extreme. XR co-founder Roger Halam was reported as saying “We are not just sending out emails and asking for donations. We are going to force the Governments to act. And if they don’t, we will bring them down and create a democracy fit for purpose…and yes, some may die in the process.” (Ibid.)

So who is right? Is Extinction Rebellion lawfully exercising their right to peaceful protest? Or, have they crossed the line by infringing the rights of others and should Police have acted sooner to move disruption to a more appropriate location?

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