ELSA UK publishes International Legal Research Group on the Right to Protest

Over the past year, ELSA LSE has in cooperation with ELSA Paris Nanterre and ELSA Iceland overseen a trilateral Legal Research Group investigating the status of the right to protest in each of their ELSA group’s home jurisdictions. The work was launched in 2018, the anniversary year of the wave of international protests launched by French students in 1968, which tried and tested the status of this human right in states across the world. ELSA United Kingdom is thrilled to be publishing this excellent piece of research today, and to share it with our wider network as an example of what student initiative can achieve. We congratulate all the ELSA Members involved for their research efforts.

The right to protest is one of the most important rights because the ability to demonstrate is one of the hallmarks of democracy. Demonstration of public opinion has led to some of the most important changes around the world. In the UK, the introduction of “poll tax” by the Thatcher government led to large scale protests across the UK. The national opposition to tax contributed to the diminishing popularity of the Conservative Government and led to the eventual establishment of Council Tax.  In the United States, the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom was a huge influence for the development and legislative initiative of civil and economic rights for African Americans in the 1960s. Thus, protesting has been a key method used to display public will. As a result, protection of the right to protest is a vital right in democratic countries.

Legally, all three jurisdictions involved in the project (Iceland, UK and France) are subscribed to the European Convention on Human Rights. Although the right to protest is not an explicit right in the Convention, a combination of Article 10 (the freedom to expression) and Article 11 (the freedom of assembly and association) have been interpreted by the courts to cover the right to protest. The academic framework of this Legal Research Group aimed to cover the most important aspects regarding the right to protest. The questions included discussions in the context of the right to protest about constitutional protection, effective remedies, impact of the ECHR, state obligations in times of emergency, restrictions on the right to protest with reference to prevention of order or crime, positive obligations required by the state, digital protests, and freedom of speech and the right to protest in academic institutions. The Legal Research Group on the right to protest formally began last year in March. Each ELSA Group was tasked with recruiting researchers, supervisors and linguistic editors to assist with the project.

The project covers the legal framework of the right of protest under each jurisdiction and how these may be applied in different contexts. We are very grateful to Professor Björg Thorarensen for establishing the questions within the Academic Framework. In addition, we are very grateful for all researchers, national supervisors and linguistic editors for their time and effort dedicated to this Legal Research Group. After the research questions were answered and evaluated by the supervisors, each group’s submission was sent to Professor Björg Thorarensen for her input. We regret that one of the answers is missing from ELSA Nanterre’s report due to unavoidable circumstances. Finally, the research report was collated and published in the present format.

We hope that this report will help students build their interest on the right to protest and human rights generally. Furthermore, we anticipate that this report will be a helpful resource in informing students across different ELSA Groups of the current protections of the right to protest in three different jurisdictions.

Please read the report below:

International Legal Research Group on the Right to Protest

Download link.

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