Legal Support

General information about organising a public demonstration

If you haven’t organised any kind of demonstration or protest before – it’s best to team up with people who have – there’s a good chance of finding a group or organisation that cares about the issue you want to take action on, and has some experience to share. For requesting support from SCALP see our requesting support page. For information on setting up legal support see our Guide to Legal Support & Collective Care.

What support does SCALP offer?

When we get a request for legal support for an action or protest, we will put a call out to our pool of trained volunteers for Legal Observers and Back Office volunteers. There is more specific information about these and other terms below. As we run on volunteer capacity, we can’t always ensure we will be able to meet every request, especially at short notice. We are aware that for some protests, a semi-public call out will not be appropriate – we’re happy to discuss alternative options such as withholding specific times and locations.

Usually we will make and send you a bust card with the numbers of our Back Office and a notified, trusted solicitor (unless you have your own) to circulate to attendees.

Legal Observers will turn up on the day in orange bibs with “legal observer” written on them and notebooks. They won’t participate in the protest and will primarily observe police behaviour. If there are arrests, Back Office will track where arrestees are being taken. Usually we will ask organisers to provide volunteers for arrestee support and Back Office will work with you on this.

Legal Observers

If there is any possibility of police involvement in your event, it’s worth considering having legal observers attend. A legal observer (LO) monitors police behaviour to help curb police abuse, record arrests and support activists – you can find out more about LOs in our Guide to Activism, Scottish Law and the Police.

If you have LOs in your group already, it’s worth asking them where and when they were trained, check you are happy with this information before proceeding. Legal Observers should not be organisers of the protest, they should remain independent in the run up and on the day. You can also ask SCALP to put out a call out for LOs. See more about requesting SCALP support above.

Back Office

If you will be having legal observers at a protest, you must have some sort of back office set up during the time the protest is happening and possibly continuing if there are arrests or extending need. A back office is essentially a people who are available to answer a phone and log information. The scale of back office depends on the size of protest and expected risk of police involvement and arrest. The Back Office:

  • Keep track of any arrests
  • Note which police station arrestees are taken to
  • Arrange for those people to be met at the police stations on release
  • Arrange support for court if necessary

Arrestee Support

If there is a risk of arrest, it is helpful to have a number of people organised in advance to meet people at police stations upon release, with transport to somewhere safe, a friendly face and some emotional support where necessary. This will be coordinated by a back office and arrestee support coordination group, depending on the size of the protest this can be done by the same people.

Liaising with the police 

In general we recommend not engaging with the police. Some groups may choose to have a Police Liaison role for strategic or practical reasons. Such a person may use their role to draw police away from conversation with other activists to combat police intelligence gathering, others may use this role to attempt to negotiate with police. SCALP does not provide Police Liaison and our Legal Observers will not pass on information or negotiate with the Police.

Bust cards

A bust card is a small printed resource with some brief key messages like ‘no comment’, and phone numbers for the Legal Back Office team and  a recommended solicitor. Legal support teams distribute bust cards in print form or digitally, before an event so that people have them to hand in case of arrest. We usually send these to you to be printed out if we are providing legal support, if you are organising your own legal support then it’s worth making them. You can find out more about these in our Guide to Activism, Scottish Law and the Police.


Check if you will be breaking any laws. You can check this by looking at SCALP resources, reading any relevant byelaws and reaching out to SCALP with specific questions if you need to. Remember, there are specific bylaws for local authority areas, locations and types of protest.

Sharing information

Sharing legal information and risks of attending with those attending is part of a well organised event. Make sure this information includes anything that might affect people differently depending on their identity and experience so that attendees can make an informed decision about their involvement. More specific guidance for Guide to Scottish Policing and Immigration Enforcement for Racialised Communities, Guide for Disabled Activists Guide for Internationals and general guidance in our Guide to Activism, Scottish Law and the Police.