11 January 2013

Essex expert joins UN debate on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association

Colchester Campus

Police at a protest in London

The right to protest will be on the agenda next week when University of Essex expert on protest law Professor David Mead meets UN Special Rapporteur Maina Kiai as part of his official visit to the UK.

Mr Kiai, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association, will attend a roundtable discussion on 14 January organised by Professor Mead of Essex’s School of Law and Dr Michael Hamilton of the University of East Anglia (UEA).

Hosted at UEA’s London offices, the meeting takes place at a time when the right to protest is very much in the spotlight, with continuing protests in Northern Ireland over the flying of the union flag and recent action in response to the tax arrangements of Starbucks and Amazon, as well as the prospect of large scale demonstrations this year as government cuts take effect.

Professor Mead who is author of The New Law of Peaceful Protest: Rights and Regulation in the Human Rights Act Era, the UK’s leading text on protest law, said: “A discussion on the future of peaceful protest could not come at a more appropriate time. Restoring the right to non-violent protest, a pledge made in the coalition agreement in May 2010, is the dog that didn't bark in the recent mid-term review – it has simply disappeared from the political agenda. This session will provide the ideal opportunity for the UN Special Rapporteur to hear directly from those affected by restrictions on this democratic right, and by lawyers acting for them when cases are brought, so as to understand the rather precarious and parlous state of the law.”

Mr Kiai will hear from representatives of national and international protest movements, environmental, human rights and civil liberties groups, as well as lawyers involved in recent legal cases. Topics for discussion which are of concern to the participants range from policing tactics such as kettling, intelligence gathering and surveillance to the prosecution policy of the Director of Public Prosecutions, as well as the registration and regulation of charities.

Mr Kiai’s trip to the UK is his second country visit since he was appointed in 2011, his first being to Georgia. The purpose is to independently examine the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, to identify any problems and to make recommendations on how these could be resolved.

Dr Hamilton, Senior Lecturer in Public Protest Law at UEA’s Law School and member of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s (OSCE) Panel of Experts on Freedom of Assembly, said: “Coming on the heels of a number of recently published reports – including those by the Joint Committee on Human Rights, the Home Affairs Committee, and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of the Constabulary – the roundtable forum will provide a unique opportunity to refocus attention on vital issues relating to the enjoyment and regulation of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly in the UK, and to hear from those most closely involved.”


Notes to editors
1. For further information, or to arrange interviews please contact either the University of Essex Communications Office, telephone: 01206 873529, e-mail: comms@essex.ac.uk, or the University of East Anglia Communications Office, telephone: 01603 593007, e-mail: c.bartman@uea.ac.uk.
2. A Special Rapporteur is an independent expert appointed by the UN’s Human Rights Council to examine and report back on, in an unpaid capacity, a country situation or a specific human rights theme. Mr Kiai will be in the UK until January 23 and will also attend meetings in Belfast and Edinburgh.

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