Coronation: Two words to remember if you're arrested for protesting

Police have new powers to tackle protesters that came into effect just days before the coronation

Protesters hold placards with the message
Protesters hold placards with the message "Not my king" before Britain's King Charles III arrives to attend the annual Commonwealth Day service at Westminster Abbey. More protesters are expected at the coronation. (AP Photo)

People protesting King Charles's coronation will be subject to new police powers, thanks to new measures in the Public Order Bill that came into effect on 3 May.

Numerous organisations, including the campaign group Republic, have announced plans to protest Saturday's events - but were sent a reminder letter from the Home Office warning that new measures mean protesters blocking roads could face 12 months in prison, while those chaining themselves to buildings face 6 months behind bars.

The coronation was described as "an important test" for the new rules by Amnesty International UK’s Chief Executive, Sacha Deshmukh, who urged against the "heavy handed" police reaction to protests following the Queen's death.

“With the Government increasingly intolerant of nearly all protest, this weekend will be an important test of whether peaceful protests are even now possible amid draconian new anti-protests laws and highly interventionist police forces," Deshmukh said.

“Those who wish to publicly register their disapproval of the monarchy and of King Charles ought to be able to do so without fear of arrest or indeed of violence from bystanders on the streets."

Police officers arrest an activisit from the group Just Stop Oil after they blocked a road in London, Thursday, Oct. 27, 2022, demanding to stop future gas and oil projects from going ahead. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
Police officers have been given greater powers to deal with protesters. (AP Photo)

What can the police do if you protest the coronation?

Peaceful protest will be allowed at the coronation, with Metropolitan Police deputy assistant commissioner Ade Adelekan assuring people that officers would not interfere with someone for "holding a placard".

However, he warned on Wednesday that "swift" action would be taken if people were perceived to be disruptive.

“Protest is lawful,” he said. “If at any point any protest, either during the coronation or afterwards, moves from being a protest that is lawful into criminal intent then you will see extremely swift action from us.”

Addressing the introduction of the new rules, he added: “We are confident that you will get the appropriate response that has the right legal framework, which delivers the results that we want, and a great celebration for all of us.”

FILE - Britain's King Charles III, back to camera, greets well-wishers as he walks by the gates of Buckingham Palace following Thursday's death of Queen Elizabeth II, in London, Friday, Sept. 9, 2022. King Charles III will be crowned Saturday, May 6, 2023 at Westminster Abbey in an event full of all the pageantry Britain can muster. (Yui Mok/Pool Photo via AP, File)
King Charles's coronation is expected to draw thousands of people to the capital. (AP photo)

In accordance with the new public order bill, "police will also be able to head off disruption by stopping and searching protestors for items like padlocks, superglue and digging tools if they suspect they are setting out to cause chaos.

"People caught with these items, with the intention of using them to cause disruption will also face criminal charges."

Additionally, the new laws could see protesters blocking roads, airports or railways handed a 12-year prison sentence, and up to six months behind bars for protesters "locking on" to others, objects or buildings - something that could be used to prevent protesters from linking arms, warned former shadow attorney general, Shami Chakrabarti.

What to do if you're arrested for protesting

Campaign group Liberty advises anyone arrested while protesting to remember that they do not need to answer any questions until they have taken legal advice.

"Answer “No Comment” to the police at all times until you’ve had legal advice from a solicitor with special knowledge about protests," their website advises, adding: "Don’t chat with officers while in a police car or van – or when being ʻbooked in’ at the police station."

Flags commemorating the coronation of King Charles III are displayed for sale at a street stand, outside Westminster Hall in London, Wednesday, May 3, 2023. The Coronation of King Charles III will take place at Westminster Abbey on May 6. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)
While many royalists are expected to line the streets around Westminster Abbey, thousands of protesters are expected too. (AP Photo)

Police arresting anyone must tell them that they are being arrested and provide the offence and a reason for the arrest. If police suspect that an offence has been committed, they have a right to request your name and address - otherwise you do not need to give your personal details.

However, if police believe you have committed a crime or anti-social act, refusing to give your details is a criminal offence under Section 50 of the Police Reform Act.

For more detailed advice, check out the Liberty site.

One grassroots organisation hands out
One grassroots organisation hands out "bust cards" to protesters giving advice on what to do f you're arrested.

Grassroots project Green and Black Cross routinely hands out "bust cards" to people taking part in protests, offering advice on what to do if you're arrested protesting (see below for a London bustcard you can print off and take with you if you're protesting at the weekend).