The Coronation was of course a massive and historic event with some 7,000 service personnel participating. They had rehearsed meticulously to put on a splendid show. It was attended by thousands who simply wished to see and enjoy the processions. They were perfectly entitled to do so. The event was also televised to millions across the world.
Earlier in the week, the Metropolitan Police issued a statement which included a paragraph stating - 'Our tolerance for any disruption, whether through protest or otherwise, will be low. We will deal robustly with anyone intent on undermining this celebration.'
Having said that they would adopt a low tolerance approach, there is every appearance that the Police did exactly that. The government has insisted that the Police acted independently and without pressure from Ministers - PM backs Met Police amid criticism of ‘bid to disrupt protest’ during coronation (msn.com).
Some of the arrests were of individuals campaigning forthe abolition of monarchy. This is the aim of the organisation Republic which also wishes to see an elected Head of State and a formal (written) constitution. They appear to want a Head of State with real powers over government - Abolishing the Monarchy - Republic and The Democratic Alternative - Republic.
Under the Public Order Act 1986 advance notice to the Police of assemblies and processions is required and the police may impose conditions. It appears that there were prior discussions between the police and Republic but details have not been published. They ought to be since there is a serious question about whether the Police honoured any prior agreement.
All of this took place against a background of major developments in public order legislation. Here is a brief summary.
Public Order Law - legislative developments:
Public Order Law has been extended considerably by:
(1) by the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022,
(2) by the Public Order Act 2023 which received Royal Assent on 2 May 2023.
It can also be noted that on 27 April 2023 the government laid draft regulations before Parliament - see The Public Order Act 1986 (Serious Disruption to the Life of the Community) Regulations 2023.
Those are subject to affirmative resolution of both Houses. The Regulations seek to amend provisions in the Public Order Act 1986 concerning the meaning of "serious disruption to the life of the community."
See the article by Tom Hickman KC and Gabriel Tan: Reversing Parliamentary Defeat by Delegated Legislation: The Case of the Public Order Act 1986 (Serious Disruption to the Life of the Community) Regulations 2023 – UK Constitutional Law Association]
A commencement order was made on 3 May 2023 bringing into force sections 1, 2, 7, 8, 15 and 34 of the Public Order Act 2023. These sections of the Act create new criminal offences focused particularly on combatting and criminalising disruptive protestors. - see The Public Order Act 2023 - (exchangechambers.co.uk).
Public nuisance and conspiracy:
Full information about the arrests has not been published but given that 32 of the arrests were for conspiracy to cause public nuisance it is worth looking, in a general way, at the legal elements of this. .
Public nuisance - The offence of public nuisance was a common law offence but is now defined by Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 section 78. The definition is wide and is the result of a Law Commission report issued in 2015 - Codifying public nuisance and outraging public decency - Law Commission. The offence is triable either by Magistrates or in the Crown Court and a conviction in Crown Court carries a maximum sentence of 10 years imprisonment.
Conspiracy - Conspiracy is agreement to pursue a course of conduct which will necessarily amount to or involve the commission of any offence or offences by one or more of the parties to the agreement. Therefore, conspiracy has to relate to a particular criminal offence - e.g. conspiracy to murder, conspiracy to commit criminal damage, conspiracy to cause public nuisance. A charge of conspiracy is triable only in the Crown Court.
European Convention on Human Rights -
The developments to Public Order law have the result that, whilst Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights protects freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, it is now very difficult to protest without breaking the law in some way.
The Convention requires the State to ensure that restrictions on peaceful assembly and freedom of association are (a) prescribed by law, (b) necessary in a democratic society for one of the reasons specified in the article - e.g. prevention of disorder or crime. Measure adopted by a State must also be proportionate. This point is discussed in some detail in the European Court of Human Rights document - Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights.