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King Charles III: Policing the Republican Protests

In Britain, pageantry has always been a palliative and plaster for the dark and dismal. Be it in times of crisis, the chance to put on an extravagant show, usually at vast expense, is not something to forego. Central to this entertainment complex is the Royal family, that archaic vestige of an era that refuses to pass into history.

The Coronation of King Charles III was yet another instance of that complex in action. It was a spectacle, redolent of ancient ceremony, aged ritual, punctuated by the monarch’s statements of “I do”.

While this delighted a goodly number of punters, the whole affair also presented Republic and others of like mind to avail themselves of the chance to protest. Republic is one of the key groups attempting to stir the waters of change, running petitions, arranging protests and selling merchandise for the cause. On this occasion, the group was promising some of the biggest protests against the monarchy, with demonstrators sporting “Not my King” placards.

Unfortunately for the protesters, and for the right to assemble in general, the UK Parliament made sure to pass laws for that precise eventuality. Nothing would be left to chance. Security Minister, Tom Tugendhat, explained away the coincidental nature of the Public Order Act 2023 and it coming into effect just days before the Coronation. “We’re not just thinking of our own security but the security of heads of states, and we’re dealing with protest groups who have nothing to do with the UK but to do with foreign leaders visiting the UK.”

The 2023 statute builds on measures that were already used against anti-monarchy protests following the death of Queen Elizabeth II. As human rights legal academic David Mead noted at the time, the right to protest peacefully is protected in domestic law, while free expression is also protected by the European Convention on Human Rights via the Human Rights Act. But this did not prevent the police from making adventurous use of various countering provisions, though it was not clear what they were. Attention was paid to the possible use of section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986, public nuisance, or arrest to prevent a breach of the peace.

Evidently, the Tory government did not feel these measures adequate in their severity. The 2023 Act specifically outlines such offences as “locking on” and “being equipped for locking on,” in addition to expanding stop and search powers. Police making use of such powers may, provided they are of or above the rank of inspector, authorise stop and search without the need for suspicion.

The locking on offence covers instances where a people “attach themselves to another person, to an object or to land,” do the same with other people, and “attach an object to another object or to land.” Such acts must also cause, or be capable of causing, serious disruption to two or more individuals or an organisation in a place other than a dwelling, and be accompanied with the requisite intent.

As for the offence of being equipped for locking on, a person is in breach “if they have an object with them in a place other than a dwelling with an intention that it may be used in the course of or in connection with the commission by any person of an offence under section 1(1) (offence of locking on).”

The government would have also delighted in the High Court’s decision to reverse a District Judge’s ruling to acquit a protester for allegedly breaching a police direction made under the Public Order Act 1986. In 2020, the protester in question sat down in Parliament Street, adjacent to Parliament Square. According to the police, the protest had stay within the confines of Parliament Square

The decision, handed down the same week the new Public Order Act received Royal assent, held that the judge applied the wrong test in assuming that a defendant’s conviction had to be proportionate relative with their rights to free expression and assembly. It was a remarkable decision, and abysmal in the context of assembly and free expression.

In a statement from Commander Karen Findlay of the London Metropolitan Police, a fat finger of accusation was pointed at the Coronation protestors. There had “been a significant police operation after we received information protestors were determined to disrupt the Coronation procession.” It was “targeted at those we believed were intent on taking this action. It was not our intention to prevent protest.”

All in all, 64 arrests were made on May 6. Of these, 52 “related to concerns people were going to disrupt the event, and arrests included to prevent a breach of the peace and conspiracy to cause a public nuisance.” Eight arrests were also “made for other offences, including possession of an offensive weapon, drugs offences, and breaching a sexual harm prevention order.”

In the arrest count were six demonstrators from the Republic campaign group, suspected of having items among their placards that “could be used as lock on devices.” The Met investigation that followed proved otherwise. “Those arrested stated the items would be used to secure their placards, and the investigation has been unable to prove intent to use them to lock on and disrupt the event.” There was “regret that those six people arrested were unable to join the wider group of protesters in Trafalgar Square and elsewhere on the procession route.”

One of the arrestees, Republic head Graham Smith, subsequently revealed that three embarrassed officers, one with the rank of chief inspector, personally apologised to him and handed “the straps [for the placards] back to me.”

Such actions did little to douse the fire. “This,” fumed Smith, “has been a disgraceful episode and we will be speaking to lawyers about taking legal action. I also expect a full inquiry into why they repeatedly lied to us and who authorised the arrests.” The newly crowned King will be hoping that interest in the matter will be quick to die down. But even the attractive glossiness of pageantry won’t last.


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  1. Anthony Judge

    I would question the manner in which this concern is framed. These days most countries are faced with security challenges on occasions which they deem symbolic. Whilst the right to protest is valuable, less evident is how much disruption is appropriate. At the far extreme are the suicide bombers. Then there are the creative attracting undue media attention — perhaps exemplified by ski jumper Eddy the Eagle. Then there are those which can be immediately ignored and forgotten about. Is there a case for facilitating access by the international network of pie throwers? How would this be appreciated on Anzac Day?

    Associating the critique with a monarchy is misleading. This would be equally applicable to any symbolic figure, notably a republican president. My complaint about the anti-monarchists is that they focus their legitimate critique on an individual, the family, the resources, and traditional pageantry — however it may appeal to some. Who needs symbols? Anti-monarchists skillfully avoid reference to why those same critiques would not apply to a president. More skillful is the avoidance of commentary on the qualities of a satisfactory president (family, etc) — given that many people like a figurehead to whinge or drool about. Where are exemplary presidents to be found? I have yet to see a shortlist of desirable presidents of Australia — and considered commentary on the selection. Why is that?

  2. Steve Davis

    Anthony, you make some good points but it’s hard to justify this.

    The monarch has veto power over legislation.

    The Queen vetoed entirely a private member’s Bill, the Military Actions Against Iraq (Parliamentary Approval) Bill 1999, that would have transferred the power to authorise military strikes against Iraq from the monarch to Parliament.

    The tale we have been fed, that it’s only a constitutional monarchy with no real power, is false.

  3. Anthony Judge

    I have no doubt that a “monarch has veto power over legislation” in some cases. My point is this is equally true of the “president has veto power over legislation” — at least in the case of some much cited presidents. The critique applies to both. The assumption that the power of an Australian president would be otherwise is where the critique should focus. A “president” may well function as a “monarch” without the fancy clothes. Macron has even been assigned deity status as “Jupiter”

  4. GL

    Frankie Boyle at work on the monarchy –

  5. Terence Mills

    Steve Davis and Anthony Judge

    The sections of our constitution that you are referring to are now obsolete but following the actions of the GG (read the Queen) in 1975 the whole issue still needs to be tidied up but can only be done by a re-drafting of the constitution and a referendum.

    The sections are 58 and 59 :

    58. Royal assent to Bills

    When a proposed law passed by both Houses of the Parliament is presented to the Governor-General for the King’s assent, he shall declare, according to his discretion, but subject to this Constitution, that he assents in the King’s name, or that he withholds assent, or that he reserves the law for the King’s pleasure.

    The Governor-General may return to the house in which it originated any proposed law so presented to him, and may transmit therewith any amendments which he may recommend, and the Houses may deal with the recommendation.

    59. Disallowance by the King

    The King may disallow any law within one year from the Governor-General’s assent, and such disallowance on being made known by the Governor-General by speech or message to each of the Houses of the Parliament, or by Proclamation, shall annul the law from the day when the disallowance is so made known.

    Our Constitution was designed for a different era when Britain and the Crown viewed us as an unruly colonial child in need of a tight rein. Now that the highly respected Queen of Australia has passed, in my view, we need, as a nation, not just to fiddle with changes to recognise first nations people but a full constitutional overhaul completely eliminating the Crown and the GG from our constitutional arrangements and a new flag – and ideally a new national anthem to replace the existing durge.

  6. Anthony Judge

    Terence I do not see that switching to a President changes anything. The issue is with the change to the constitution as you imply. My point is that it is difficult to see how a change would avoid disallowing — given the examples of other current presidents and the need for empowering the president appropriately (however that is understood). My other point is the need for a “top person” figurehead over whom some can drool positively, whilst others frame negatively — a focus for whingeing. Preferably the president should be photogenic and offer meat for media — dress, behaviour, scandal, beliefs, etc. Otherwise they come over as wooden and evoke no popular engagement — vital to the effectiveness of the role. Methinks Charles should take the initiative and tell his dependencies to do their own thing. Rhodesia comes to mind.

    On the disallowing, there is a nice story about one of the King Baudoin’s — a fervent Catholic. When required to sign some abortion legislation, he declined, abdicated for a day (during which the backup procedure was used for signature), then he rerurned to the throne.

  7. Canguro

    GL, a heads up for your posting of the Frankie Boyle piece, watched in entirety, educational end enjoyable. Fun facts to learn that about 1% of the British population own half the land in England, that 400 people own half the land in Scotland, and that the kings, (and queens) collectively since William the Conqueror have basically been a bunch of ruthless bastards devoted to maintaining their power, killing those who threatened or opposed them, while all the while amassing enormous vaults of wealth looted from others such as the people of the countries they colonised.

    How the current crop of Britishers continue to put up with this anachronistic feudal hangover is as big as mystery as the ever elusive Loch Ness monster, but of course delusion, whether about the grand nature of having a monarchy in your little shit-box island country or for that matter a prehistoric monster land-locked in a Scottish lake, generally takes back seat in preference to the momentary thrill of the spectacle or mystery.

  8. New England Cocky

    Oh dear ….. the true nature of English authoritarian government has been exposed by the Charlie Chuckles drag show.
    @ Anthony Judge: It may be your legitimate preference to kow-tow to a foreign Head of State whose lackey gg david hurley facilitated the establishment of the Scummo dictatorship by granting royal assent to the seven ministries …. while setting up a little multi-MILLION taxpayer funded pecuniary side deal with the misnomer promoting ”Youth Leadership”. If you believe that these shysters are eligible to hold public office then you deserve the resulting rip-offs that unfortunately affect all Australians. These bastards should be in jail!!
    Monarchists as a class cling to the apron strings of English royalty because they have been trained (like Pavlov’s dog) to respond in an approved manner. This was certainly the case in the 1953 Coronation and subsequent victory tour by Betty Windsor & Phil the Greek. But why??
    English and other international corporations rape Australian natural resources with little or no financial or social benefit for Australian citizens. Better to produce, process and manufacture all goods in Australia from Australian resources rather than purchase overseas for significant multiples of the price paid for natural resources.

    Australia was the Lucky Country about 50 years ago, but subservient monarchists like Menzies ensured that Australian republican interest were stifled. Remember, in 1942 the English defence strategy for Australia, the HMS Repulse and Prince of Wales, were sunk by Japanese aircraft as English troops were surrendered to the Japanese by the gutless English High Command.

  9. Terence Mills

    Good Morning Anthony Judge

    I think we are on much the same track.

    I would never argue in favour of a President. In my view to swap a foreign monarch for a domestic President would not achieve anything without a major constitutional overhaul to remove all reserve powers.

    Fundamentally my argument is that the constitution needs a complete redraft and should incorporate a Bill of Rights – we should eliminate the role of the British monarch as our head of state and if we do maintain a ceremonial domestic figure-head, he or she should be, in all matters, subordinate to the elected parliament

    PS : Fingers are a bit tentative this morning – it’s ten degrees at 7.30am and I live in Far North Queensland, the Atherton Tablelands – a bit warmer in Cairns !

  10. Anthony Judge

    Terence, none should argue against constitutional revision. So there we agree. However there are many who delight in proposing constitutional changes on paper. Curiously seemingly zero effort is made to test these out in simulations. My bias is to complex computer simulations, variously visualizable and testable, and inviting the intervention of “hackers” to that end. Same for “democracy”. The question for me is how any revision is vulnerable to whatever. Paper possibilities are too theoretical. Anybody been exposed to cheating in Monopoly? But I do believe in the symbolic “rubbish” as it appeals to so many and the media — and may be of deep significance to the few who can read it. How is that to be built in? Curiously this is evident in the weird dress code and modes of address of the law courts? Why is that to be taken so seriously? “Your excellency”? Not sure how New England Cocky managed to frame my preferences as pro-monarchist and kow-towing. I am pro-neither until we can simulate something that works in practice and is immune to messing around — except for those who live for such games? Maybe we need a constitution which also provides a context which allows for messing around

  11. Terence Mills


    Interestingly the constitution of Papua New Guinea, having been crafted in more recent times and borrowing from some other more Liberal and progressive constitutions showed itself able to do something that our constitution could not.

    When we sent asylum seekers to Manus Island PNG to be detained, an action in the supreme court of PNG tested the constitutional right that no person should be detained or imprisoned unless they had committed a crime and been sentenced by a properly constituted court of law. Dutton as foreign minister put a lot of resources into trying to defeat that action but the court upheld their constitution and he failed. The detainees had to be released and subsequently they took the federal government to court in a class action in Australia for falsely imprisoning them on Manus : they won damages of $70million or around $30K each for the 1905 detainees.

    That’s what I call a constitution !

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