Getting stopped is one of the occupational hazards of taking action, but with the right preparation you can ensure that you stay in control. Read on to find out what should you in the event of an arrest (courtesy of Resist! author Michael Segalov) and download your very own bust card to fill in, cut out, and keep in your wallet.
Organizing collectively and taking action as a movement can be a life-changing experience. It will give you a sense of empowerment and hope that enters your bloodstream and will run through your veins for a long time to come. Change, however, isn’t always welcomed by those in charge. If you encounter repression and violence, you won’t just be left with physical scars; make a wrong move and your newfound strength will be ripped from your hands. That’s why it’s crucial to be prepared and know your legal rights.
Our rights are everything
While modern legislation has enshrined our right to protest in law, people in Britain throughout history have stood up to fight for these freedoms. The European Convention on Human Rights sets down our right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, although over time the state has introduced laws and regulations to restrict us. That said, if you understand your rights and know where to find support, exercising these freedoms can be easy.
Disclaimer: The law is a complicated beast – always consult a solicitor when you need legal advice
Kettling, or containment, is a technique used by the police to bring large crowds under their control. Kettles can be imposed for long periods of time, so if you’re heading to a protest where a kettle might occur, take water, supplies, warm clothes and your phone. The police are responsible for drawing up plans to assist vulnerable and distressed people, and they should provide water and toilets where necessary and practical.
In the past, police officers have demanded details from protestors as a condition of leaving a kettle, but this has been ruled unlawful. You are not required to give your name or address or have your picture taken. But you will have to wait until the police allow you to disperse.
Facing arrest is stressful and unpleasant, even if you know you’re having your liberty taken away for a cause. In some situations, activists engage in civil disobedience with the expectation of being put in handcuffs. At other times, the police might arrest you before you’ve even had a chance to pause for thought.
The Green & Black Cross is a grassroots network of activists who support people facing legal action for their involvement in protest. Their five key messages are worth remembering if you find yourself in handcuffs.
1 No comment
From the moment you first have contact with the police, what you say may be used as evidence. Saying ‘no comment’ during informal conversations after arrest, while being transported, during processing, and in any interview will ensure that you don’t say anything that you later regret, or that might incriminate you or anyone else.
2 Personal details
You don’t have to give personal details to the police at any point during the arrest process, although doing so can sometimes speed up your release. Speak to your solicitor, but you’ll only ever need to give a name, address and date of birth.
3 Find a good lawyer
Identify which law firms in your area, or in the vicinity of the protest, specialize in protest and activism cases. Write their phone number on your arm in case you are arrested, as your belongings may be confiscated. When you are offered the right to legal representation, call them. Duty solicitors are unlikely to be experts in the specifics of protest law.
Accepting a caution is admitting guilt, but without the need for the police to collect evidence or convince a court. Never accept a caution without speaking to your solicitor.
5 What power?
The police often rely on activists not knowing the law or their rights. Always ask under what powers officers are asking you to do something; likewise if they arrest you. The police have a duty to keep you informed. Make a note of who they are and what they say as soon as possible.
Keeping yourself informed of your legal rights is the best way to ensure you’re ready for whatever is thrown at you
Sometimes officers will act wrongly, but even the police aren’t above the law of the land. Legal procedures can be tricky to navigate, so if you feel you’ve been treated unfairly, consult a solicitor with experience to look into your case.
You may be able to make a civil claim against the police if you’ve been assaulted or mistreated, wrongly arrested or prosecuted for something you didn’t do. Your lawyer will be best placed to advise you. This could result in an apology, damages being awarded or an admission of wrong-doing by the police.
You might want to make a complaint against the police in circumstances where there might be insufficient evidence available to make a claim succeed in the courts. You can also make a complaint against police officers acting in a rude and unprofessional manner.
Staying on the right side of unjust laws isn’t always easy, and even if you do, there is no guarantee you won’t end up intimidated, arrested or under attack. Keeping yourself informed of your legal rights is the best way to ensure you’re ready for whatever is thrown at you. Whatever happens, though, remember to stick together: support and solidarity are invaluable if you’re facing the full force of the law.
The bust card
It’s impossible to predict whether the police will use their powers at a protest, so preparing bust cards is well worth the effort. These are pocket-sized pieces of paper including legal basics and important contact info in case of arrest or police interaction. Create a legal helpline on the day of any action, too, so that you can keep track of police actions and arrests.
Buy a new pay-as-you-go simcard and put it into a phone. Ask someone behind the scenes to monitor it and make notes during a march or action, as witnesses might call in to report incidents on the ground. Make sure this phone number is circulated and on bust cards. These reports will provide a valuable resource should cases end up in court.
Be prepared! Download your own bust card now…