The right to peaceful protest - to make your views known, and to publicly stand up for what you believe in - is part of our democracy that many take for granted. For Kevin and Pennie, however, it was the Human Rights Act that made this a reality.

In 2003, Kevin and Pennie were on their way to a demonstration outside the annual arms fair at London Docklands, when police stopped and searched them under the Terrorism Act. Kevin was stopped for 20 minutes before being allowed to leave. Pennie was ordered to stop filming the protest, even though she is a journalist, and was wearing a photographer’s jacket and showed her press card. She later described being so intimidated that she didn’t return to the protest. 

Kevin and Pennie disagreed with the actions of the police – they were concerned that the broad powers contained in the Terrorism Act allowed stop and search without reason. They decided to ask a court to look at the issue. During the hearing, it emerged that since 2001 the whole area of Greater London had been designated to allow police to stop and search anyone without suspicion, including those lawfully going about their day-to-day activities. 

Kevin and Pennie’s legal case went all the way to the European Court of Human Rights. The Court decided that public stop and search raised issues under the right to respect for private life (Article 8). The question was whether such an interference was allowed because there was a law that permitted it, and whether that law was being used properly. The Court found that searching the protestor and the journalist was not a proper use of the law – the powers given to the police were too wide. There were also no safeguards to stop such powers being used inappropriately to prevent free expression under Article 10 and free assembly under Article 11. The Court found Kevin and Pennie had each had their right to respect for private life violated. 

This led to important changes which have improved the protection of everyone’s human rights. The powers under the Terrorism Act were repealed, and replaced by powers with better safeguards that limit their use only to instances of suspected terrorism, so public safety is still protected. This helps to protect our freedom of speech when we want to peacefully protest, as well as the private lives of members of the general public.