DPP v Ziegler: a clear framework for dealing with protest cases

Continuing his inspection of protest rights in the UK, Mark Pritchard casts an eye over the latest High Court judgment on the issues in a “lock on” appeal.

Mark Pritchard

The new case of DPP v Ziegler [2019] EWHC 71 (Admin) makes a clear statement to courts that the right to protest does include the right to do so on the highway.

The case of Ziegler arises from protests at the biennial Defence and Security International (“DSEI”) fair at the Excel Centre in East London. All four defendants lay in the middle of an approach road leading to the Excel Centre with their arms in a “lock on” device. One carriageway (the one leading to the Excel Centre) was entirely blocked as a consequence. After being cut out of the “lock on devices”, all four Defendants were arrested under section 137 of the Highways Act 1980 for obstruction of the highway.

Ziegler provides an in-depth assessment of human rights law in relation to freedom of assembly and freedom of expression in relation to obstruction of the highway. Lord Justice Singh and Mrs Justice Farbey give a clear approach as to how such offences should be approached in the Magistrates’ Court.

DSEI Protest in 2017
DSEI Protests in 2017

Magistrates are reminded that they have a duty to act in a way which is compatible with the convention rights of the defendant. The importance of the human rights of protesters is put front and centre of a judgment which stresses the “fair balance” that must be struck between protesters and road users.

It is made expressly clear that article 10 and 11 rights are capable of giving rise to a lawful excuse for the purpose of section 137 of the 1980 Act. It is further stated that there is no primacy of the rights of road users over the rights of protesters.

The judgment succinctly states the following;

“In essence, the lawful exercise of Convention Rights in Articles 10 and 11 will mean that the prosecution have failed to prove that the defendant’s use of the highway was “unreasonable”. For that reason the defendant will have “lawful excuse” for an obstruction of the highway. It will therefore not be a criminal offence.”

at Para. 69

Hopefully, this judgment will lead to a real thorough and thoughtful analysis by District Judges and lay benches when protest cases come before them.

Mark Pritchard is able to give advice on any cases where a lay client is being prosecuted for exercising their free speech and protest rights.

Central Chambers has a criminal team with experience in defending a variety of of public order, road traffic, protest, and human rights work.

If you would like to instruct Mark Pritchard or another member of the criminal team, please do not hesitate in contacting the criminal clerks by clicking here or by calling on 0161 236 1133