Saunders solicitor quoted in BBC article on protest rights!

Peter Walker was recently quoted by the BBC in relation to the rights of protesters in the context of mass demonstrations in support of Palestine. The article can be found here and has been reproduced below. He has previously written a series on police powers in the context of protests (Part 1 and Part 2) and the increasing erosion of protest rights in the face of new restrictive legislation.


The BBC has been made aware of instances where police officers have warned people with a Palestinian flag on their private property that they could be in breach of the Public Order Act.

Under the Act, someone can be found guilty of an offence if they have "intent to cause a person harassment, alarm or distress".

Peter Walker, a human right's solicitor, explained to the BBC: "There are no laws that ban any country's national flag to be hung on private property."

While the UK does not recognise Palestine as an independent state, Mr Walker said it was "a partially recognised sovereign state amongst the international community" as 138 of the UN's 193 member states recognise it.

He added: "If police are called to a property they have the right to make inquiries, but equally, unless they specify that you are committing an offence and will arrest you, you have the right to ignore them and close the door."

The Met Police said: "Displaying a Palestinian flag on its own isn't a criminal offence, however it can be if there are aggravating factors."

When asked about the aggravating factors, the Met said these would be "assessed on a case-by-case basis".

Can I wave a flag or wear certain symbols in public?

Generally speaking, your right to wave a flag is protected under the European Convention of Human Rights, which guarantees individuals' rights to freedom of expression.

In a written reply to the BBC, Mr Walker said it would be "extremely unlikely that waving a Palestinian (or Israeli) flag could ever be construed as intending to glorify acts of terrorism, but said the important thing to remember was context".

He added: "Waving a flag or bearing a symbol in a deliberately offensive and provocative way could lead to an arrest. Whether it would hold up in court is probably a different matter."

Home Secretary Suella Braverman has written to chief constables in England and Wales to suggest that some instances of waving a Palestinian flag or chanting may be a criminal offence.

She said: "Behaviours that are legitimate in some circumstances, for example the waving of a Palestinian flag, may not be legitimate such as when intended to glorify acts of terrorism.

"Nor is it acceptable to drive through Jewish neighbourhoods, or single out Jewish members of the public, to aggressively chant or wave pro-Palestinian symbols at.

"Where harassment is identified, I would encourage the police to take swift and appropriate enforcement action."

The Met Police later published a statement saying "the waving of a particular flag is not, in itself, a specific criminal offence unless it relates to a proscribed organisation".

What has the Met Police arrested people for?

Since protests began three weeks ago in London, 100 people have been arrested, according to the Met.

On Saturday 28 October, five people at a central London pro-Palestinian demonstration of 70,000 were charged - two were accused of racially aggravated offences, another two of public order offences and another was charged with causing actual bodily harm.

It is not clear if the public order offence charges related to waving a flag or chanting, but Mr Walker said he did not believe an "arrest on that basis alone would ever hold up or result in a conviction".

During the protest, some people chanted "from the river to the sea", referring to the land between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean.

Ms Braverman had previously urged police chiefs to consider interpreting those words as an "expression of a violent desire to see Israel erased from the world".

The Palestinian Solidarity Campaign and other activists have contested this, saying the slogan refers to "the right of all Palestinians to freedom, equality and justice".

Further chants, including "chanting for the erasure of Israel from the map" and chanting "jihad" have been identified by Ms Braverman as ones that police forces should take action on.

It is important to remember that the police and Crown Prosecution Service are operationally independent from the government, meaning decisions on what might constitute law-breaking lie with them.

Police are due to receive "clarified" guidance on hate crimes after Met Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley said officers' hands are tied by laws on hate speech.

He said his force was "ruthless in tackling anybody who puts their foot over the legal line", but argued hate crime laws "probably need redrawing" because extremists groups were able to spread "truly toxic messages" messages without breaking the law.

Can I be arrested for putting flags, symbols or stickers on public property?

The BBC recently reported that Palestinian flags were being removed from lamp-posts on streets in east London after concerns were raised with police.

According to accounts on social media, nearly every lamp-post on Bow Road in Tower Hamlets had a flag attached.

At the time the Met said no offence had been committed but Transport for London (TfL), which is responsible for the roads, said it was "swiftly removing them".

The Met has also removed posters of Israeli hostages put up in Edgware, north London.

Mr Walker said there was the "potential" of being arrested if you commit criminal damage which is defined as "deliberate or reckless damage" of property without lawful excuse.

This could include putting flags, stickers or symbols on public property, but he said "attaching a flag to a lamp-post is very unlikely to be considered criminal damage provided it does not damage the light post and can easily be removed".

He added, however, that "police often do arrest protesters for criminal damage on fairly weak grounds, including for using chalk on pavement, for example".


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