In November 2020, Unite pursued a legal challenge over the right to picket during lockdown, after a picket of bus workers was broken up by police. That challenge was successful, clearly establishing the right to picket in lockdown.
Exception 22 of the “Coronavirus: The Health Protection (Coronavius, Restrictions) (All Tiers) (England) Regulations 2020” clearly states that picketing is exempt from lockdown restrictions, provided:
- the gathering is for the purposes of picketing which is carried out in accordance with the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992, and
- the gathering organiser takes the required precautions in relation to the gathering.
But new guidance from the Crown Prosecution Service now states: “Note that picketing; protests; the Christmas period exception and permitted organised gatherings exceptions in Tier 3 do not apply in Tier 4 areas.”
The exact legal situation, now that the Tiers system has been superseded by a new national lockdown, is, at best, ambiguous. Legal advice sought by the United Voices of the World union suggested physical pickets in Sage care home workers’ strike from 15 January could be in breach of legal restrictions.
Speaking at the virtual rally in support of that strike, Labour MPs John McDonnell and Nadia Whittome pledged to challenge any legal restrictions on the right to protest and picket in Parliament.