Article 11 represents an important right for all of us who may want to protest authoritarian decisions that we feel collectively do not serve our best interests, as well as our right to enjoy things collectively:
1 Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.
2 No restrictions shall be placed on the exercise of these rights other than such as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. This Article shall not prevent the imposition of lawful restrictions on the exercise of these rights by members of the armed forces, of the police or of the administration of the State.
What does this mean?
The freedom of assembly authorises us to be part of a large group of people for an incredibly wide range of things; from protests to parties. It allows us to protect our common interests from being infringed by those employing us and governing us. Some of the most famous gatherings of people; the March against the Iraq War in 2003, the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963 and (almost) every year at Glastonbury – represent examples of us using our freedom to assemble and Article 11 ensures our right to continue to do so in the future.
Protests have long been a method for the people to unlock the power of the powerful. Since the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215 – one of the most important legal documents in this country’s history, which was a method of the omnipotent monarchy to appease the resenting people – we have earned the opportunity to say ‘no’ to decisions that we do not agree with. Since 1215 we have seen occasions worldwide such as the Boston Tea Party (1773), the French Revolution (1790’s), the Suffragettes (1913) and the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960’s United States all represent huge steps in which people gathered together to tell those in charge that they do not have as much power as they think. That those who they are supposed to represent, are ready to be represented. As Martin Luther King Jr said:
“We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”
Article 11 was made part of the European Convention of Human Rights and therefore the Human Rights Act 1998 to allow the people to carry on taking such steps and ensuring we remain represented, equal and continue to support true democracy. Not only that, but if a million of us fancy getting together in Hyde Park and dancing/moving out of rhythm to the Beegees, Article 11 and all those years of graft from some of the bravest humans of all time allow us to do that too. So be thankful from the bottom of your Night Fever hearts.
Are there any exceptions and how well are they implemented?
As expected, sometimes precautions need to be taken. Unfortunately accidents can sometimes seem unavoidable when large groups of people assemble and we have a tragic number of examples this year alone. Exceptions (like in other articles) are in place if they are prescribed by law and necessary in a democratic society in the interests of security, health and morals.
There are an incredible number of laws in place that can act as exceptions to this right. The Court’s will always look to protect our rights and freedoms from infringement, however the ‘prescription by law’ line perhaps allow authorities more discretion than intended, as they look to defend themselves in claims of infringement. Legislation setting out the police’s powers and the procedure for industrial action to be carried out within, represent two controversial areas where such concerns have been raised. It is often suggested that the police either do not fully understand these powers they possess when it comes to ensuring protests and assemblies remain peaceful and safe, or they just plain don’t care about the powers and see themselves as above the law (something those who have read my simple definition of the rule of law will know cannot be true, silly silly police officers). Furthermore, there has been a huge amount of commentary on industrial action and how these industrial action laws sit too far in the favour of employers (who it should be noted can also use industrial action) and unreasonably limit this freedom of assembly right, to deter people from invoking it. The Trade Union Bill has been an example of recent controversy in this area, as numerous commentators suggest it is an unruly attack on the working people of the UK, whilst Sajid Javid MP, our business secretary, suggested it is necessary to guard against “militants”.
Trying to avoid boring you with the great details of this backlash, the bill is looking to give someone called the Certification Officer seemingly unlimited powers to investigate the work of trade unions (which are groups organising employees in their respective sectors to produce more efficient and hopefully successful industrial action). Furthermore, it is trying to introduce the ability for employers to hire temporary workers to cover any employees striking, removing the main strength of a strike. As a comparable example, it’s sort of like your Mum taking your chocolate bar away from you for misbehaving and your Nan just giving you a new chocolate bar. It omits the point of your Mum’s action and you never learn. Hence why your Mum is still having to take chocolate from you as an adult in an effort to make you behave yourself.
On top of this, we have the potential introduction of minimum turnouts for strike votes and they are probably going to make every worker in the country get their employer’s logo tattooed on their forehead to make sure consumers stop getting confused about who actually works at Topshop for example.
Okay the last point isn’t true, but you get the point; there are some strong suggestions that these exceptions are restricting are Article 11 freedom too much and Topshop need to make their employee’s wear a uniform. Preferably bright colours and a stupid hat to remove any confusion.
I have to say that this bill will almost certainly go through many amendments before reaching Royal Assent and becoming real law. And it may not even get that far – it may be struck out in the near future. Also, it should be remembered that these are exceptions to our rights. Therefore the right is not ‘freedom to stop people standing up for what they believe in and/or watching England go out of a tournament again, in a town square, on a big screen, whilst they all burn in the 15 degree heatwave’. The right is to stand up for our beliefs and suffer in the town centre. The exceptions are supposedly there to protect the continuation of that right. So, be optimistic and be glad we have yet another right to hold the state accountable for any attempts they make overstate their authority.
There are exceptions and we are lucky enough to live in a country that applies these exceptions extremely well compared to many, less-democratic states. Our right to assembly has been used successfully multiple times in recent history, most notably being used as a threat in the debate surrounding the NHS and junior doctors. There are certainly questions to be asked about how restrictive these exceptions can be, but that is a political question. Something I want to try and empower you to discover the answer for yourselves. Not simply feed a bias answer to you. The internet is truly wonderful if you avoid the scams and viruses and trolls. It has so many articles, pictures and blogs begging for you to read them and learn a little more about Article 11 and the restrictions on it. So, utilise them! And let me know what you think!
Sorry this one is late, and I hope it isn’t too rant-like! Let me know what you think, or if you have any questions. See you (hopefully) at an earlier time tomorrow for an analysis of Article 12’s the right to marry! Also, shout out to the Guardian and BBC websites and their numerous articles and timelines for providing me with hard-hitting facts.