New UK laws to prohibit face coverings and pyrotechnics at protests

The Home Secretary said that while 'the right to protest is paramount in our country', deliberately setting out to cause damage will not be tolerated

Powered by automated translation

People who wear face coverings and use pyrotechnics at protests in the UK face police arrest under new laws to crack down on disorder.

The move follows warnings from police chiefs that some protesters are using face coverings to conceal their identities, intimidate law-abiding citizens and avoid criminal convictions.

Police already have powers to ask people to remove face coverings where they believe a crime is likely to occur.

But this new order allows officers to arrest those who disregard their orders, with people who flout the rules facing a month in prison and a £1,000 [£1,262] fine.

Flares and others pyrotechnics will also be banned from protests, and protesters will no longer be able to use the right to demonstrate as a reasonable excuse to get away with disruptive offences, such as blocking roads.

Flares and fireworks have been used during recent large-scale protests. They have been fired at police officers.

The measures, which will be introduced in the Criminal Justice Bill, will also make climbing on war memorials a specific public order offence, carrying a three-month prison sentence and a £1,000 fine.

Pro-Palestinian protests in London - in pictures

“Recent protests have seen a small minority dedicated to causing damage and intimidating the law-abiding majority," Home Secretary James Cleverly said.

“The right to protest is paramount in our country, but taking flares to marches to cause damage and disruption is not protest, it is dangerous.

“That is why we are we giving police the powers to prevent any of this criminality on our streets.”

Thousands of pro-Palestinian protesters march in London - video

Watch: Thousands of pro-Palestinian protesters march in London

Watch: Thousands of pro-Palestinian protesters march in London

The National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for public order, Chief Constable BJ Harrington, said: “We welcome the proposal to create new offences relating to war memorials and flares, as well as making it clear that covering your face at a protest to conceal identity is not acceptable.

“These changes are in line with conversations that we have had with the Home Office to ensure that we have the powers that we need to get balance right between the rights of those who wish to protest, and those impacted by them.

“Safety is our number one concern when policing these events, and the effective banning of these items during protests can only help in our mission to ensure that they take place without anyone coming to any harm.

“As with all policing powers, these new powers will be used when appropriate, proportionate and necessary to achieve policing objectives.

“Policing is not anti-protest, but there is a difference between protest and criminal activism, and we are committed to responding quickly and effectively to activists who deliberately disrupt people’s lives with reckless and criminal acts.”

Since October 7, there have been more than 1,000 protests and vigils, with more than 26,000 police officer shifts between October 7 and December 17 alone, and 600 arrests.

The measures are part of a government crackdown on disruptive protests.

They follow legislation passed last year that criminalises actions such as "locking on" and give police the ability to stop and search protesters for items such as padlocks and superglue, if they suspect the demonstrators are setting out to cause chaos.

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 also made it easier to tackle public nuisance caused by protesters.

Updated: February 08, 2024, 12:15 AM