Our current advice is that protests and demonstrations risk the further spread of COVID-19, particularly if those taking part do not follow safety measures.
We respect and support your right to demonstrate and protest. We understand that where there is strength of feeling, there is a desire to protest, and the right to do so is fundamental to a healthy, vibrant democracy. Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) protects your right to freedom of expression and Article 11 protects your right to assembly and demonstration. We take those rights, and any restrictions placed on them, extremely seriously. However, in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Scottish Government must also uphold Article 2 of the ECHR – the right to life. This includes implementing appropriate measures to safeguard life by encouraging behaviour that will protect us all, and making laws to do so, if needed. The Scottish Government will ensure that any measures applied are necessary, proportionate and time limited.
It is also important to recognise that rights and responsibilities go hand in hand, and that those protesting have a duty to take responsibility for their actions and to consider the rights of others. In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, this means recognising the scale and nature of the virus and the risk that gatherings currently pose to public health and taking necessary steps to minimise this risk. For this reason, if you are thinking about holding a demonstration or protest, we strongly advise you to reconsider and think about other ways of making your voice heard. This could include, for example, using social media or holding a virtual event.
Static protests and demonstrations, categorised in the law as ‘outdoor organised events’, are not legally prohibited in levels 0, 1, 2 and 3, provided steps are taken to minimise the spread of the virus. However, we ask that you follow the advice to consider alternatives. If a static protest or demonstration is to take place, steps must be taken to minimise the risk of spreading the virus, and this guidance is designed to help you do that. The guidance also sets out what constitutes a static demonstration. Please note that static protests are prohibited in COVID protection level 4 areas due to the enhanced risks of infection. COVID protection levels are reviewed frequently, and sticking to these restrictions now allows us to suppress the virus and reduce the number of cases.
This guidance uses the term “protests and demonstrations” throughout. When reading the guidance it is important to be aware that the term protests and demonstrations is used as a catch-all for all forms of gatherings including protests, demonstrations, vigils, watches, rallies, sit-ins, celebrations and all other such gatherings with the exception of organised pickets as defined in The Health Protection (Coronavirus) (Restrictions and Requirements) (Local Levels) (Scotland) Amendment (No. 18) Regulations 2021.
Things to consider before organising or taking part in a demonstration or protest
Before organising or attending a demonstration or protest you should consider:
- alternative ways of having your voice heard that remove the current health risks posed by face-to-face contact
- carrying out a risk assessment that considers the risk of COVID-19 transmission for all those involved with your proposed demonstration – organisers, volunteers, demonstrators, stewards, police, bystanders and others in the vicinity
- who else might be using the space at the same time and how this might impact on your use of the space and the ability to maintain physical distancing
- the location of your demonstration, when it will take place, and how people will get there
- any permissions you might need to use the land identified for your demonstration
- all relevant guidance, as well as current regulations and advice and the necessary actions you must take to stay safe
- sharing this guidance and explaining the responsibilities with those participating in your event
- talking about your demonstration with Police Scotland and your local authority and sharing your risk assessment
Additionally, you should fully consider how the following measures could make your demonstration safer and how you are going to implement them:
- hygiene measures
- physical distancing measures
- test and protect measures
- face coverings
- safely getting to and from the demonstration by following advice for using public transport in your local area
- current restrictions in place in your local area
- engaging with Police Scotland and local authorities
- working with other sectors and public services
Good management and responsible and considerate planning will help to make your static demonstration as safe as possible. This will ensure that participants, local communities and anyone coming into contact with your event minimise the risk of catching and spreading COVID-19. Please help us to tackle this virus together.