Article 11 Right to protest and freedom of association

Article 11: Your right to freedom of assembly and association

Everyone has the right to associate with others and gather together for a common purpose.

Article 11 is fundamental to keeping us free. It lets us protest peacefully, join trade unions and hold the powerful to account.

Freedom of assembly

Article 11 is closely linked to freedom of expression as it applies to protests, marches and demonstrations, counter-demonstrations, press conferences, public and private meetings and more – but it does not protect intentionally violent protest.

People turn to Article 11 when public authorities stop a demonstration going ahead, take steps in advance to disrupt a demonstration or store personal information on those taking part.

The State can’t interfere with your right to protest just because it disagrees with protesters’ views, because it’s likely to be inconvenient and cause a nuisance or because there might be tension and heated exchange between opposing groups.

Instead it must take reasonable steps to enable you to protest and to protect participants in peaceful demonstrations from disruption by others.

Freedom of association

Everyone is free to associate with others – including to form and join trade unions or join with others to pursue common causes and interests. 

The right of association also includes the freedom not to associate with others.  Associations aren’t obliged to admit someone if other members decide their membership is not compatible with the group’s aims and interests. 

But when trade unions are involved, exclusions which have negative employment consequences must not be arbitrary or unreasonable.

You also have the right to refuse to join an association. This does not include professional regulatory bodies set up by the State to regulate professions, as these are not considered to fall within the definition of an association.

Limitations

The right to protest and freedom of association can be limited in certain circumstances.

Any limitation must:

  • be covered by law
  • be necessary and proportionate
  • pursue one or more of these aims:
    • the interests of national security or public safety
    • the prevention of disorder or crime
    • the protection of health or morals
    • the protection of others’ rights and freedoms.

It’s not necessarily a breach of protest rights if authorities require you to give notice of plans to stage in advance, as long as notification doesn’t become an obstacle to free assembly.

Lawful restrictions can be placed on Article 11 rights by members of the Armed Forces, police and others – but those restrictions must be backed up by convincing and compelling reasoning.