Scotland has a long history of public assembly, from the historic Riding of the Marches to the rent and workers strikes of the early twentieth century. More recently, Scotland’s streets have seen climate change protests and political marches on Brexit and Scottish Independence, while tensions between loyalist and republican parades continue to make headlines. Following the recent high-profile events in Glasgow this Summer, this blog looks at current regulations surrounding marches, parades and public processions in Scotland.
Where does a person’s right to march come from?
Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights guarantees the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association with others. No restrictions should be placed on these rights, except in the interest of public safety, preventing disorder or crime and for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
Conversely, nobody has the right to force an individual to join a march, parade or protest. These rights are enshrined in law by the 1998 Human Rights Act.
Who is marching?
Information on the number and type of marches is not held centrally but rather by local authorities, making it difficult to obtain data on processions in Scotland as a whole. Some regular marching organisations are local in nature, such as the Coldstream Riders Association and the Dundee Pensioners Forum.
Figures for the number of public processions in Scotland’s largest city can be found in the chart below.
Estimating the size of marches is also difficult, due to the fluid nature of these events. At the most recent climate change demonstration on 20 September 2019, organisers estimate more than 20,000 people took part in Edinburgh alone.
Who is responsible for marches?
Matters relating to the management of public processions, marches and parades are the responsibility of local authorities (or, in the case of national parks, the relevant National Park Authority), under Sections 62 to 66 of the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982. Notice must be given to authorities at least 28 days before the date of the planned event and must specify:
- the date and time of the procession
- its route
- the estimated number of persons likely to attend
- the arrangements for its control
- contact details for the organiser.
The authority must give at least two days’ notice of any decision to prevent or place conditions on a procession, or any changes to those decisions. Police Scotland must be consulted before any decision on the procession can be made.
In addition, the Police, Public Order and Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2006 states four considerations to be taken into account when considering a notification from a Procession Organiser. These are:
- public safety
- public order
- damage to property
- disruption to the life of the community.
Where road closures are involved, roads authorities (local authorities for local roads and Transport Scotland for trunk roads) can implement Traffic Regulation Orders (TROs) to restrict or divert traffic at public events. These powers stem from the 1984 Road Traffic Regulation Act.
Ultimately, responsibility for the procession itself and its participants lie with the procession organiser, who is required to co-operate with the authority and the Police from the time of submission of the notification form until the procession disperses.
When can marches or parades be banned?
Section 63 of the Civic Government Act lists the considerations which must be taken into account when deciding to impose conditions, or to prohibit a march altogether. This includes looking at the effect of the procession in relation to public safety, order, property damage and disruption to the community. The authority must also consider whether the event would place “an excessive burden” on police forces.
The Scottish Government issued guidance to local authorities in 2006, setting out the steps they must take when considering whether it is necessary to prevent a procession from taking place. Should a submission fail to meet the considerations set out in the Civic Government Act, then the authority may issue an order to either prohibit the procession, or impose conditions on the holding of it, to mitigate any risks identified during the application process.
In addition, some local authorities have established codes of conduct on public processions, which may place additional requirements on organisers.
Have there been any recent changes to legislation?
There have been no recent developments to change the legislation on public processions. The Scottish Government has stated that local authorities, in consultation with Police Scotland, are:
“in the best position to decide whether a particular event should go ahead and whether any restrictions should be placed on it. The Scottish Government supports local authorities in making decisions which achieve the correct balance between the rights of marchers and the rights of communities affected”
The Scottish Government published Dr Michael Rosie’s Independent Report on Marches, Parades and Static Demonstrations in 2016, which noted that the vast majority of marches and parades are “well-organised, have undergone tried and tested processes of notification and negotiation, and pass off in a peaceful and orderly fashion.” It does however make recommendations on changes to community engagement, public information, and the use of Traffic Regulation Orders. Dr Rosie is currently undertaking a review of the implementation of these recommendations and is expected to report to the Scottish Government on his findings early next year.
In addition, the 2015 report by the independent Advisory Group on Tackling Sectarianism in Scotland made recommendations to strengthen community involvement in the decision making process for marches and parades. The Scottish Government has stated it is undertaking discussions with local authorities and Police Scotland, and is “open to a conversation” on changes to legislation, where the authority feels there is a need for.
Alisdair Grahame, Enquiries Officer, SPICe