Breakin' the LAW!Over at Volodymyr Campaign, we're planning to take part in tomorrow's international walk for Belarusian democracy. Eastern European politics aren't a fashionable cause in Britain. I won't say how many people we're expecting; it sounds much better to say that we've doubled the numbers since our last event. Ahem.
Last night I was alarmed to receive this e-mail from the Metropolitan Police:
Your website, & details of the walk on the 15th October have come to my attention...
This unit is responsible for helping organisations manage their marches/demos safely & we plan the police response to all major events in Central London.
We are a little concerned as we know nothing about your proposed event. Certain events require the organiser to provide police with 6 clear days notice. There are certain areas of Central London where marches & other events are restricted.
We will give you any advice & assistance you need for the event but it is in your interests to let us know what you are doing.
I need to know how many people you expect, whether or not you propose to walk on the road, & a number of other factors concerning your event.
Please call me on the numbers below as soon as possible.
[Name and number removed]
I spoke to the police officer, who explained that the Public Order Planning Unit had found our website and concluded that we must be a large organisation with the potential to bring London to a halt. After I stopped laughing, I assured him this was not the case, and he told me we would be OK to go ahead with the walk.
The fact is, though, we're still breaking the law. According to the Public Order Act 1986 (laws made before 1988 aren't online, but here's a Home Office memo discussing the relevant section), organisers must give "six clear days notice" of any procession intended 'to demonstrate support for or opposition to the views or actions of any group; or to publicise a cause or campaign; or to mark or commemorate an event.' According to this site, there is no minimum number to constitute a procession. If you and your grandmother plan to walk down Main Street to give the mayor a letter about a traffic crossing, you need to inform the police a week beforehand or you could be fined up to a thousand pounds.
Needless to say, the police don't have the time or interest to go around enforcing this law. But it's there whenever the government wants to use it.