Arrested for Protesting

Extinction Rebellion is in the middle of a campaign of mass protests across the UK and worldwide. For many protestors taking part, getting arrested is either part of the plan or at least something they are willing to risk. For Extinction Rebellion protesters, the following information could be highly useful.

If you have been arrested at a protest or are planning to attend a protest where you believe you might be arrested, it is important to understand your legal rights, what happens when you get arrested, the types of charges you could face and your legal defence options.

A criminal conviction could have a significant effect on your life, including your job prospects, further education options and ability to travel abroad. Having the right legal support can help you to avoid criminal charges or minimise the penalties on conviction, reducing the long-term impact on your life.

JD Spicer Zeb is one of the country’s leading criminal defence firms with over 40 years of experience. We offer strong expertise in advising and representing clients facing all sorts of criminal charges, including those related to protest arrests.

We understand what a scary and confusing situation this can be. By offering clear legal advice and sympathetic personal support, we can help get you through this difficult time. In many cases we are able to secure acquittal at an early stage, helping you to avoid charges or a prosecution.

Our criminal defence team can support you at every stage of proceedings, from the point of arrest onwards, and will be happy to advise you in advance of a protest if you are concerned about a potential charge.

If you have been arrested for, or charged with, an offence related to protesting, you can contact us 24-hours a day, seven days a week for an immediate free initial consultation, expert legal advice and representation.

Our highly experienced criminal defence solicitors offer:

  • 24/7 legal support in person and over the phone, 365 days a year
  • Representation anywhere in England or Wales
  • Accredited Police Station Representatives to support you during a police interview
  • Clear, effective legal advice in any language (see our languages spoken)
  • Local offices in London, Birmingham or Manchester

Have you been arrested at a protest? Use the emergency numbers below to secure representation by one of our accredited Police Station Representatives now.

Our emergency contact numbers:

Birmingham – 07891 777090

Brent & Camden London – 07836 577556

Manchester – 07798 701339

What to expect if you are arrested for protesting

At the point of arrest, the arresting officers are required to tell you:

  • That they are police officers
  • That you are being arrested
  • What specific offence or offences you are believed to have committed
  • Why it is necessary for you to be arrested
  • That you are not free to leave

They must also caution you using the words:

“You do not have to say anything. But it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence.”

When arresting you, police have the power to:

  • Search you
  • Use ‘reasonable force’ if you resist arrest, try to escape or become violent
  • Handcuff you if the arresting officers feel this is appropriate

Following an arrest, you will normally be transferred to a police station, held in custody (in a cell) and then interviewed.

Your legal rights when arrested at a protest

During an arrest and police interview, it can be very easy to say or do something which can undermine your defence later. Remembering your legal rights can help you to avoid making any such damaging mistakes and improve your chances of a positive outcome.

The most important things to remember when speaking to the police are:

  1. You do not have to answer any questions asked by the police. Whether to do so or not requires a thorough understanding of your case and how the criminal justice system works. Legal advice should be taken before saying anything.
  2. You should never answer any police questions without a solicitor present.
  3. You have the right to free legal representation.
  4. You can use the duty solicitor available or choose your own lawyer.

What happens if you are charged with an offence following a protest?

If you are arrested and interviewed by police in connection with a protest, one of the following will happen after your initial interview:

  • You are released with no further action
  • You are released under investigation
  • You are detained in custody
  • You are charged with a specific offence

If you are charged with an offence:

  • A hearing date will be set
  • You will either be:
    • Released on bail
    • Kept in custody until your court hearing

Please note, if you are released under investigation or with no further action, you can be rearrested or summonsed to attend a court hearing at any time.

If you are charged with an offence you may be brought straight from police station to court or bailed to attend on a future date.

If you are brought straight to court, we will have engaged the services of specialist counsel on your behalf. Depending on the funding arrangements, you could have your choice of both junior counsel and senior counsel.

If you are bailed to attend on a future date, in order to achieve the best possible outcome for our clients we can offer you access to proactive early stage representation, which could minimise the burden of drawn out legal proceedings and reduce the charges or the penalties faced.

We can engage specialist counsel for consultation whose rates range from between £500 plus VAT - £1000 plus VAT for an initial meeting.

Offences you could be charged with as a protester

There are various offences you can potentially be charged with as the result of taking part in a protest, depending on where the protest takes place and what actions you take (or are believed to have taken by police) as part of the protest.

Common offences protesters may be charged with include:

  • Breach of section 14 of the Public Order Act 1986
  • Public Nuisance
  • Aggravated trespass
  • Obstructing a police officer in the execution of their duties
  • Obstructing a highway
  • Obstructing trains or carriages on the railway
  • Criminal damage
  • Assault

The potential penalties for these offences will depend on the circumstances.

A note on ‘Common Law Breach of the Peace’:

Police can arrest you if they believe you have committed a ‘breach of the peace’, but this is not a criminal offence and you cannot be charged as a result.

If you are arrested for a breach of the peace, you do not need to give the police any personal details, including your fingerprints or DNA.

You can potentially be held overnight and put in front of a judge to be ‘bound over’. This means you must agree to keep the peace for a set period of time and pay a sum set by the judge if you fail to do so.

This is not a criminal conviction and will not result in a police record, but you could be jailed for contempt of court if you do not agree to the terms set by the judge.

Penalties for protest related offences

Breach of the Public Order Act 1986

Conditions are frequently imposed on protests under sections 12 and 14 of the Public Order Act 1986. It is an offence to knowingly breach these conditions.

Maximum sentence: A fine of up to £1,000.

Public Nuisance

This is a common law offence where someone is believed to have acted in a way that endangers the life, health, property, morals or comfort of the public or obstructs the public in the exercise or enjoyment of rights common to all citizens.

Maximum sentence: Life imprisonment (for the most serious cases involving danger to life).

Aggravated trespass

Where the offender enters or puts property on land belonging to someone else without their permission in a way that intentionally prevents someone from carrying out lawful activities.

Maximum sentence: 3 months’ imprisonment and/or a £2,500 fine.

Obstructing a police officer in the execution of their duties

Where the offender intentionally obstructs a police officer, or a person assisting an officer, in the execution of their duty.

Maximum sentence: 1 month’s imprisonment and/or a £1,000 fine.

Obstructing a highway

Where the offender is found to have wilfully obstructed ‘the free passage of a highway’, with ‘highway’ in this context referring to roads and pavements, as well as other areas including grass verges and private property. You must normally have been asked to move by police and have refused in order for your obstruction to be considered ‘wilful’.

Maximum sentence: £1,000 fine.

Obstructing trains or carriages on the railway

Where an offender is found to have deliberately obstructed or attempted to obstruct a train or railway carriage, including slowing or stopping a train.

Maximum sentence: 2 years’ imprisonment.

Criminal damage

Where an offender has caused damage to property that does not belong to them through an unlawful act.

Maximum sentence: If the damage is valued at less than £5,000 – 6 months’ imprisonment. If the damage is valued at more than £5,000 – 10 years’ imprisonment.


Common assault (as defined under section 39, of the Criminal Justice Act 1988) is where an offender inflicts violence on another person or makes another person think they are about to be attacked.

Maximum sentence: 6 months’ imprisonment.

Funding your legal defence

Funding at the police station

You are entitled to free legal representation when arrested or interviewed under caution by police. You can choose the duty solicitor available at the police station or request your own legal representation.

We recommend choosing a solicitor with specific experience in protest offences to ensure you have the best possible defence.

While protest groups such as Extinction Rebellion may recommend legal representatives, you should feel free to use your own judgement over who is the best representative for you. 

Funding for a court case

If you are prosecuted for an offence related to a protest, you may be able apply for a Representation Order to cover some or all of your defence costs. This is commonly referred to as ‘legal aid’.

What financial assistance you are entitled to and the process to secure funding will depend on which type of court the prosecution takes place in.

Magistrates’ Court prosecutions

If you are prosecuted in Magistrates’ Court, you may be able to have some or all of the cost of your defence covered by a Representation Order.

To qualify for legal aid for a Magistrates’ Court prosecution, you will need to pass a means test, showing you cannot fund your own defence and a merit test, to show that it is in the interests of justice for you to have legal representation.

Crown Court prosecutions

For a Crown Court prosecution, you will normally be expected to cover some of the cost of your defence yourself. If you are found not guilty, any payments you make towards your defence should be refunded with interest.

To qualify for a Representation Order for a Crown Court prosecution, you will only need to take a means test and your defence will automatically be considered to be in the interests of justice.

Private fees 

If you are funding the cost of your own defence, we will be happy to discuss our fees with you, so you are completely clear about the likely costs involved. Please get in touch to discuss our criminal defence fees.

Find out more about funding your criminal defence.

Contact our criminal defence lawyers today

For a free initial consultation, urgent specialist advice, immediate representation or to speak to us confidentially about an arrest or charges related to protesting, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

You can contact our dedicated criminal defence lawyers in London, Birmingham, and Manchester by telephone on:

  • Brent & Camden London Office: 020 7624 7771
  • Manchester Office: 0161 835 1638
  • Birmingham Office: 0121 614 3333
  • City of London: 0207 624 7771 (our senior Solicitors and Partners can meet by appointment in the City)

Or email:

Alternatively, you can fill out our quick online enquiry form, and we will get back to you as soon as possible.

24/7 legal representation for protest-related charges

Please get in touch for a free initial consultation with one of our expert criminal defence solicitors, as well as immediate representation and advice on dealing with an arrest or charges connected to a protest.

We are available to represent clients all over England and Wales at any time, so please contact our Emergency Number: 07836 577 556.

This document does not constitute legal advice.


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