Freedom of assembly and association

You have the right to protest by holding meetings and demonstrations with other people. But you must act peacefully and without violence or threat of violence.

You also have the right to form and be part of a trade union, a political party or another association or voluntary group. 

Nobody has the right to force you to join a protest, trade union, political party or another association.

Restrictions

On occasions, it can be acceptable for a public authority to restrict your rights to freedom of assembly and association.

This is the case only where the authority can show that its action has a proper basis in law, and is necessary and ‘proportionate’ in order to:

  • protect national security or public safety
  • prevent disorder or crime
  • protect health or morals
  • protect the rights and freedoms of other people.

A ‘proportionate’ response to a problem is one that is no more than is necessary, is appropriate and not excessive in the circumstances.

There might be greater restrictions if you work for the armed forces or the police, or if you are a civil servant.

What the law says

Article 11: Freedom of assembly and association

  1. Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.
  2. No restrictions shall be placed on the exercise of these rights other than such as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. This article shall not prevent the imposition of lawful restrictions on the exercise of these rights by members of the armed forces, of the police or of the administration of the state. 

Example cases

A group of young men used a shopping centre in Wellingborough as a meeting and ‘hanging out’ point. The numerous complaints from shoppers and shop-owners about the nuisance caused by them sometimes led to police involvement. The local council wrote to the young men telling them they were banned from the shopping centre. A lawyer for the young men took the case to court, arguing that they had the right to gather where they chose. The court disagreed, saying that if the young men had been organising a demonstration, or other kind of peaceful assembly, they could rely on their human right to gather for a demonstration. As they were simply hanging out in the shopping centre, this did not apply.

(Example taken from Watson, J and Woolf, M, Human rights toolkit, London, LAG, 2003.)

Last Updated: 09 Jun 2009