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Article 11 of the Convention provides as follows:
(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, or the police, or of the administration of the State.
The right to freedom of assembly covers peaceful protests and demonstrations. Public and private meetings are protected under this Article. These may be limited mainly on the grounds of public order. In most cases Article 11 rights are considered together with the right to freedom of expression under Article 10 and sometimes the right to a fair trial under Article 6. The Strasbourg Court will only reach a ruling under Article 11 if it considers that this is the lex specialis to be applied in a given case, in other words whether its provisions are more relevant to the facts than those in Article 10.
The right to freedom of association guarantees the capacity of all persons to join with others to attain a particular objective. Freedom of association also implies a negative right for individuals who may not be compelled to join an association: (1) Young (2) James (3) Webster v United Kingdom (1981) 4 EHRR 38 (a case concerning closed shop agreements) and Sigurdur A Sigurjonsson v Iceland (1993) 16 EHRR 462 (compulsory membership of a taxi association breached the applicant’s right to freedom of association). In addition to this in the recent case of Demir & Baykara v. Turkey (10 November 2008), the Grand Chamber held that the right to bargain collectively had become one of the essential or core elements of the right to join and form trade unions, something of a departure from the case law on this particular element of trades unionism in the seventies. States are also under a positive obligation to provide legal safeguards for employees against actions taken by private employers. In one case a private company dismissed the applicant who was a candidate for the British National Party, because he might allegedly have offended clients of ethnic origin if they discovered his leanings. The Strasbourg Court upheld his complaint under Article 11, concluding that his right to freedom of association has been infringed and violated, because the qualifying period of one year for unfair dismissal left no room for a claim that he was discriminated against on grounds of his political beliefs: Redfearn v United Kingdom, 6 November 2012.
Freedom of assembly is often in the news as demonstrations, sit-ins, staged occupations and other forms of protest are part and parcel of the public life of a liberal democracy. We discuss the application of domestic public order laws and the extent to which they can be mitigated by Article 11 here.
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