'This is Not a Riot!': Regulation of Public Protest and the Impact of the Human Rights Act 1998

  • Joanna Gilmore

Student thesis: Phd


The death of Ian Tomlinson at the G20 protests in London in April 2009 triggered a haemorrhaging of public confidence in public order policing. The protests were swiftly followed by a plethora of official inquiries and reports tasked with investigating the legitimacy of existing public order policing tactics and the associated mechanisms of accountability. Events since Tomlinson's death indicate that this is an issue that is unlikely to dissipate any time soon. Dramatic footage taken during the 2010-11 student protests, including police officers charging protesters on horseback and dragging a disabled activist from his wheelchair, attracted widespread condemnation. The on-going revelations into the activities of undercover police officers suggest that such practices may be the tip of the iceberg. These disclosures have caused a serious crisis of legitimacy for an institution supposedly founded on a principle of 'policing by consent'.Paradoxically, these developments have occurred during a period in which the right to protest is for the first time reflected in law. In October 2000 the much trumpeted Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA 1998) came into force in England and Wales, incorporating into domestic law the rights and freedoms enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Although the ECHR does not establish a legal right to protest per se, it does guarantee positive rights to "freedom of expression" and "freedom of peaceful assembly", as well as prohibiting arbitrary state interferences with an individual's liberty and security, thought, conscious and religion and right to privacy. The HRA 1998 appeared to mark a radical departure from the traditional approach and was celebrated as signalling a "constitutional shift" in the state's approach towards public protest.A principle aim of this thesis is to examine the impact of the HRA 1998 on the regulation of public protest in England and Wales. Whilst a growing body of academic literature has analysed public order law and policy against abstract human rights principles, relatively few have attempted to ground the analysis in the experiences of protesters. This thesis seeks to begin to fill this lacuna. Moving away from a doctrinal analysis of human rights law, I utilise a socio-legal framework to examine contemporary developments in the regulation of public protest in the context of a view from below. Drawing on extensive ethnographic data and analyses of policy documents, newspaper reports, case-law, legislation and Hansard, I adopt a critical normative perspective to assess the legitimacy of the current restrictive interpretations of human rights principles in legal, political and policing-policy discourses.
Date of Award31 Dec 2013
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorJudith Aldridge (Supervisor) & Graham Smith (Supervisor)


  • Counter Terrorism
  • Human Rights
  • Public Order Law
  • Policing

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