Short Life Working Group on Facilitating Peaceful Assemblies: report

The Short Life Working Group on Peaceful Processions in Scotland has reviewed processions in Scotland. The report uses the comparison between Northern Ireland and Scotland as a basis to discuss how well the legislative framework and related processes are working in Scotland.


The Working Group was tasked with identifying challenges involved in the facilitation and regulation of processions, including those relating to the notification process, in Scotland. A human rights-based approach has been central to our work in seeking to identify processes capable of achieving an appropriate balance between the rights of organisers/participants and the rights of non-participants and communities impacted by these events. We were specifically asked to look at how the Northern Ireland Parades Commission works and whether there was any learning that could be extracted from this model and adapted for Scotland.

1. There is no present need for a Parades Commission in Scotland. Rather, the Working Group suggests several measures appropriate to particular areas of Scotland where specific challenges have arisen in relation to processions and related protests. (Sections 1.10 – 1.11)

2. The facilitation and regulation of processions can be improved by reinforcing a human rights approach and exploring the resourcing and processes that underpin this approach.

3. These processes, at their core, are premised on a system of notification and this is fundamentally different from – and creates different public expectations than – a licensing framework. The presumption in a notification framework is that the organiser of an assembly can proceed unless and until the relevant authority intervenes. (Section 2)

4. We underline the importance of having a simple process for notification and suggest that section 62(1)(b) Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982 be repealed to remove the defunct requirement for organisers to submit notification to the chief constable. (Sections 2.6 – 2.7).

5. We were not convinced that there is either need or merit in introducing in Scotland a 14-day notification requirement for parade-related protests (as exists in Northern Ireland). (Section 2.9)

6. We underscore the importance of ensuring that relevant information about processions is accessible on Local Authority web sites. (Section 3.3)

7. We note the vital importance of interagency working and bringing together interested parties through structures such as the Event Planning and Operations Group (EPOG) in the City of Edinburgh and the Safety Advisory Group (SAG) process as used by (amongst others) Scottish Borders Council. (Sections 4.13 – 4.15, 4.20)

8. We were also struck that Council Officers across the Local Authorities in Scotland dealing with parades seemed not to have many opportunities to share and learn experiences and we suggest that a process of information sharing and establishing good practice is developed. Data concerning previous parades and their regulation across Scotland should be collected into a significant body of knowledge. We suggest that COSLA or another appropriate body undertake this work. (Sections 4.19, 11.2 – 11.4)

9. The Working Group believes that the initial step in considering whether or not restrictions on a procession might be justified should be whether a procession raises rights-based concerns. (Sections 5.12, 7.7)

10. Further consideration might be given to the question of whether Local Authorities should be empowered to impose conditions on related counter-protests and/or on the supporters of processions. The Working Group can see some merit in having the same regulatory body take such decisions (rather than having some decisions being taken by Local Authorities and other decisions concerning related events being taken by Police Scotland). (Sections 5.14 – 5.18)

11. There may be some advantage in locating the power to prohibit public processions outside of Local Authorities, and in creating a higher statutory threshold for prohibition than exists for imposing conditions. (Sections 5.19 – 5.20)

12. We support the importance of transparency in the process but suggest that some consideration be given to introducing a level of confidentiality in relation both to evidence submitted to local authorities and to the deliberations of the relevant committee. (Section 6)

13. Further consideration should be given to the factors relevant to the interpretation of the 'disruption of the life of the community' criterion (in section 63(8)(a)(iv), Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982). In making this recommendation, we recognise that different rights of different individuals and groups are potentially engaged – the rights of those seeking to parade and the rights of those who experience parades. We observe that the relevant authorities have positive obligations to uphold these different rights and must separately assess the proportionality of any interference with these different rights. In making such assessments, different material considerations may arise in respect of different rights.The Working Group is of the view that the cumulative impact of processions on the rights of others in a particular locality is one of a number of factors that may legitimately be taken into account in assessing the impact of a procession on the rights and freedoms of others so long as it is not accorded undue significance, and even if the processions in question are organised by different bodies and/or have different participants. We make this point because the impact on the rights of others occurs irrespective of who is organising or participating in the processions. As such, the State's positive obligation to protect these other rights and freedoms arises independently of who is organising or participating in each procession. Emphatically, however, this is not to suggest that blanket restrictions (such as a quota on processions in a particular locality) can be imposed and it does not in any way diminish the importance of considering each notification on its own terms. (Sections 7.8 – 7.9)

14. Drawing on the example of Northern Ireland, the working group also considers that public processions and related open-air public meetings could be expressly exempted from the category of 'special events' to which Temporary Traffic Regulation Orders (TTROs) pertain. (Section 10)

15. We would suggest that extending the capacity of some Local Authorities (Glasgow in particular) to collect evidence, engage with interested parties, develop case studies and potentially facilitate negotiation and mediation may have a long-term impact in reducing conflict. There is the potential to constitute the Processions Committee in Glasgow in a different way by appointing and involving independent civic actors and by rethinking the core functions that such committees within Local Authorities might best serve. (Sections 1.11, 4.21, 9.10-9.11 and 13.2)

16. The working group believes that an important part of improving relationships around processions and related protests is to develop significant capacity for mediative practice outside the Local Authority which could be engaged in processes throughout the year. (Section 8)

17. The working group has concluded that there are a number of ways in which communities, relevant groups and civic authorities can be resourced in order to reduce the need for public order policing. These might include: training for stewards; the resourcing of organisations to undertake steward training; funding for organisations to develop skills including in communication and engagement; the development of mediation practice across society; the involvement of citizens in decision-making and event facilitation; training in human rights and policing; support for political activism. Such funding offers a community policing alternative to the deployment of public order resources and thus potentially saves money. Moreover, it also underpins the State's commitment to protecting the right of peaceful assembly and other rights and freedoms. (Section 12.7)

18. The Working Group has suggested a range of measures that could be acted upon in areas where they are most needed. As such, we have avoided suggesting a 'one size fits all' approach but have instead suggested increasing capacity in particular areas to address particular issues. So, for example, it could be that Glasgow City Council could work on some of these changes with the possibility of a review process after 3 or 5 years. If the review deems the changes successful, the model could then be looked at by other Local Authorities as required. (Section 13.2)



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