Right to assembly


Court of Appeal concludes in AG referral of jury acquittal of Colston 4 that ECHR rights were not engaged where damage to property was criminal

4 October 2022 by

AG’s Reference arising from a prosecution arising in the Crown Court at Bristol 28 September 2022

Four defendants were acquitted by a jury in Bristol Crown Court following their trial for allegations of criminal damage on 7 June 2020 to a statue of the English merchant Edward Colston (1636-1721). The story has been widely covered elsewhere so I will limit this post to a discussion of the reference itself.

The application with which this reference was concerned was whether conviction for the damage done to the statue was a disproportionate interference with the defendants’ right to protest, under the free speech Article 10, right to gather under Article 11, and the right to freedom of conscience under Article 9.

The Attorney General has the power to refer verdicts to the Court of Appeal under section 36 of the Criminal Justice Act 1972 in the event of acquittals to correct mistakes of law so that those mistakes are not perpetuated in the courts below.

It is important to note at the outset that this reference was not directed to the jury’s verdict itself. It was to clarify the law on public protest to avoid confusion.

The Court of Appeal has provided its own press summary of their decision. In the following paragraphs I gather together the salient observations in this decision.


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