A spate of arrests against anti-monarchy protesters in the days since the passing of Queen Elizabeth II have sparked a debate around freedom of speech laws in the UK.
One man who is eager to defend the rights of the protesters is barrister Paul Powlesland. He decided to find out for himself what would happen if he even intimated that he might protest outside the Houses of Parliament.
On Monday, 12 September, the 36-year-old travelled to London to see how true the reports were of police targeting protesters who were 'exercising their rights to freedom of speech'.
Just went to Parliament Square & held up a blank piece of paper. Officer came & asked for my details. He confirmed that if I wrote “Not My King” on it, he would arrest me under the Public Order Act because someone might be offended.— Paul Powlesland (@paulpowlesland) September 12, 2022
When he arrived, Powlesland held up a blank placard, only to be told by police officers that he risked arrest if he scrawled 'not my king' on it.
His experience follows that of three protesters who were all arrested in the days following the Queen's passing at Balmoral.
One incident involved a man named Rory being charged with breaching the peace for calling Prince Andrew a 'sick old man'.
In a bid to raise awareness of the issue, Powlesland uploaded his interaction with the police officers outside the Houses of Parliament to social media.
The barrister can be heard saying: "Why would you ask for my details?"
September 12, 2022
To this question, the officer replies: "You said you were going to write stuff on it, that may offend people, around the King. It may offend someone."
Powlesland then asks: "Who’s that going to offend?", to which the policeman says he doesn't know.
Stuart Cundy, the Met’s Deputy Assistant Commissioner, told the Metro he was were aware of the footage, before insisting that people 'absolutely have a right to protest'.
He added: "We have been making this clear to all officers involved in the extraordinary policing operation currently in place and we will continue to do so.
"However, the overwhelming majority of interactions between officers and the public at this time have been positive as people have come to the Capital to mourn the loss of Her Late Majesty the Queen."
“We need to allow people to protest peacefully.”@paulpowlesland was spoken to by the police for holding a blank banner in Parliament Square and told if he had written on it ‘not my king’ he would’ve been arrested.— Good Morning Britain (@GMB) September 13, 2022
Are arrests appropriate for people protesting the monarchy? pic.twitter.com/w0sC4HeURC
According to Powlesland, the nature of his job meant that he couldn't risk actually getting arrested for protesting, a fact that turned out to be the inspiration behind the blank placard.
He told ITV's Good Morning Britain: "I actually couldn’t risk arrest as I’m due to be in tribunal. So I just thought I’d take a blank piece of paper down there.
"Partly [it was done] as a comment as well on the lack of freedom of speech and how ridiculous it is."
Far from being tamed by the incident, Powlesland now says his stance against the monarchy has been hardened, going so far as to claim that he is now a 'Republican'.
He told GMB: "It feels like a very odd time, when there does seem to be… using the respect that is due to the Queen and her death, as a way of silencing any dissent over Charles’s accession.
"I’m not actually a Republican, or I wasn’t before this week. Like most British people, I was vaguely ambivalent to the monarchy. But this week, and what’s been happening, has made me Republican."
Featured Image Credit: ITV/ @paulpowlesland / Twitter
Topics: The Queen, King Charles III, UK News, Crime