Guide to Protest and COVID-19

Updated 27 Nov 2020

This guide is specifically for activist groups in Scotland; to explain the implications of the COVID-19 regulations which came into force on 2 November 2020 and 20 November 2020. It is not a complete guide to COVID-19 regulations.

Scottish Coronavirus regulations apply in different ways between local authority areas, check the Scottish Government website to see which level a particular area is placed in.

Face Covering and the App

You have to wear a face covering if you are using public transport or going inside certain public buildings. Some indoor spaces are exempt, and if you have a health condition that means you cannot wear a face covering you are also exempt. 

There are no general rules requiring individuals to use the COVID-19 phone app, to use face coverings outside, or to physically distance outside.

Restrictions on Protests, Gatherings and Travel

With important exceptions listed below, travel is restricted by law for areas in Levels 3 and 4: it’s not allowed to travel to another local authority area or outside Scotland, and people may only come in if passing through.

There is also a general legal restriction on travel between Scotland and other parts of the UK and the Republic of Ireland, with similar exceptions.

Many of the rules on indoor gatherings and travel are due to be suspended or altered during the ‘Festive period’, 23-27 December inclusive. See the Scottish Government webpage for details. 

Local Authority Level

Limit on outdoor gatherings (for any purpose)

Specific rules relevant to protest

Travel restrictions

0

Up to 15 people from 5 households

Any number of people may meet outside or inside in one place for an ‘organised activity’**, as long as provisions are taken to limit risk at the event. Moving protests and marches are explicitly banned. 

Travel within level 0-2 areas is unrestricted. Travel level 3-4 areas, or outside Scotland, not allowed except for reasons listed below.*

1

Up to 8 people from 3 households. 

Any number of people may meet outside or inside in one place for an ‘organised activity’**, as long as provisions are taken to limit risk at the event. Moving protests and marches are explicitly banned. 

Travel within level 0-2 areas is unrestricted. Travel level 3-4 areas, or outside Scotland, not allowed except for reasons listed below.*

2

Up to 6 people from 2 households

Any number of people may meet outside in one place for an ‘organised activity’**, as long as provisions are taken to limit risk at the event. Moving protests and marches are explicitly banned. There are no exemptions for inside events.

Travel within level 0-2 areas is unrestricted. Travel level 3-4 areas, or outside Scotland, not allowed except for reasons listed below.*

3

Up to 6 people from 2 households

Any number of people may meet outside in one place for an ‘organised activity’**, as long as provisions are taken to limit risk at the event. Moving protests and marches are explicitly banned. There are no exemptions for inside events.

Travel within local authority unrestricted. Travel outside local authority areas is not allowed and people may only come in from outside if passing through, except for the reasons listed below.*

4

Up to 6 people from 2 households

No exemptions for protests.

Travel within local authority unrestricted. Travel outside local authority areas is not allowed and people may only come in from outside if passing through, except for the reasons listed below.*

Exemptions

*Exemptions to travel restrictions for Levels 3 and 4:

  • it’s an emergency or you’re providing emergency help
  • getting food, medical supplies or services for the upkeep of yourself, your household or vulnerable people
  • travelling for work or “voluntary services” which can’t be done from home
  • organised sport, or exercise within 5 miles of the local government boundary
  • visiting someone in your extended household
  • visiting someone in care or in hospital
  • visiting someone in prison or secure accommodation
  • caring for children
  • caring for vulnerable people, including by bringing supplies
  • caring for an animal
  • attending or giving education or training
  • using medical, government and charitable services
  • going to the tip
  • moving house
  • maintaining your property or collecting funds you’re owed
  • attending a wedding ceremony
  • attending a funeral or “compassionate reasons which relate to the end of a person’s life”
  • registering to vote or voting
  • attending legal proceedings

Exemptions that apply to Level 3 areas only (not Level 4):

  • participating in or running youth activities
  • driving lessons or tests
  • donating blood
  • attending a wedding reception (in level 4 you can go to the ceremony though)
  • attending worship (in level 4 you may only travel to lead worship)

For the purposes of the travel restriction exemptions, parts of the UK other than Scotland are treated in the same way as Level 3 areas.

Under 18s face fewer restrictions and there are other exemptions in place, which are less relevant to protest. See the Scottish Government website for more info.

**An organised activity is a gathering that is organised by a named charity, non-profit organisation, club, or political organisation. The regulations do not define any of these terms but we suggest that informal community groups and activist organisations are included. Note that the exemptions for protest or political activities do not exist for level 4 areas. 

Police and Local Authority Powers

Local Authorities may ban gatherings from specified outdoor spaces and can place restrictions on specific events, including cancelling them altogether.

If a gathering doesn’t comply with the rules, a police officer can:

  • Direct a gathering to disperse.
  • Direct any person in the gathering to return home.
  • Bring any person in the gathering home. 

Police officers may use ‘reasonable’ force when exercising their powers. 

Police or local authority Coronavirus officers may also enter your house without permission if they deem the situation “urgent”, and may use force to do so.

Offences

If you don’t comply with the rules, or with an instruction by a police officer, you can be issued a fine called a ‘Fixed Penalty Notice’ (FPN).

FPN gives you the choice: either pay a fine and avoid any further liability or face a potential criminal charge and conviction. If you receive an FPN, you have 28 days to decide whether you want to contest it. If you want to challenge an FPN, you should seek legal advice immediately. If it is your first FPN it is £30 to pay within 28 days or £60 after that. The penalties rise rapidly with each subsequent FPN (up to max. £960).

Stop and Search

Police may only stop and search you if you are suspected of committing certain crimes, such as possession of drugs, or theft. They must have good reason to suspect you and must state the specific crime they suspect you of.

Interacting With Police

Ask: “What power?”

What legislation they are using when they ask you to do something and if it is a request or something you legally have to do.

Write Down: ID Number and Notes

If you feel like a police officer is acting unreasonably you can ask for their identification number, or make a note of it as they are supposed to have it written on their shoulder pads (usually a letter followed by 3 or 4 numbers). Make a note of what happened with as much detail as possible as soon as you can. This will help you if you or the police take matters further.

Arrest

Say: “No Comment”

You must give your name, address, date and place of birth and nationality if you are arrested. You DON’T have to say anything else. (We recommend that you say ‘no comment’ in response to any other questions asked.)

You will be searched, and your possessions taken away. If you are under 16 the police will contact your parent(s) or guardian(s). The police can photograph and fingerprint you and take a DNA sample without your consent. 

Your Rights Under Arrest

  • To be told you are under arrest and what offence you are being suspected of.
  • To be told that you have the right to remain silent.
  • To contact a solicitor (including to have a private consultation with a solicitor before any questioning by the police begins and to have a solicitor attend any questioning with you).
  • Have a friend or relative contacted.
  • To see a doctor if you are sick or hurt.
  • To receive vegan, halal or kosher food.
  • To a translator if English is not your first language.

Poster

Updated graphic version coming soon.