Steel and Others v The United Kingdom: ECHR 23 Sep 1998

The several applicants had been arrested in different circumstances and each charged with breach of the peace contrary to common law. Under the Magistrates’ Court Act 1980, the court can bind over a Defendant to keep the peace, if the Defendant consents, and impose a sentence of up to 6 months’ imprisonment if the Defendant refuses to consent to a bind over. The procedure is initiated by a complaint and a bind over order does not constitute a criminal conviction.
Held: The UK law of Breach of Peace was not so vague as to constitute breach of human rights. It was a breach only where there had been no likelihood at all of violence from any act and nobody else impeded by otherwise peaceful act of progress. ‘The proceedings brought against the first applicant for breaching the peace also display these characteristics: their deterrent nature is apparent from the way in which a person can be arrested for breach of the peace and subsequently bound over ‘to keep the peace or be of good behaviour’, in which case no penalty will be enforce, and the punitive element derives from the fact that if a person does not agree to be bound over, he will be imprisoned for a period of up to 6 months. . . In these circumstances, the Commission considers the charge of breach of the peace to be a criminal offence and binding over proceedings to be ‘criminal’ in nature, for the purposes of Article 6 of the Convention.’ and ”Breach of the peace is not classed as a criminal offence under English law. However, the Court observes that the duty to keep the peace is in the nature of a public duty; the police have powers to arrest any person who has breached the peace or whom they reasonably fear will breach the peace; and the magistrates may commit to prison any person who refuses to be bound over not to breach the peace where there is evidence beyond reasonable doubt that his or her conduct caused or was likely to cause a breach of the peace and that he or she would otherwise cause a breach of the peace in the future. . . . Bearing in mind the nature of the proceedings in question and the penalty at stake, the Court considers that breach of the peace must be regarded as an ‘offence’ within the meaning of Article 5(1)(c).’ ‘
Times 01-Oct-1998, 24838/94, (1998) 28 EHRR 603, [1998] ECHR 95, [1998] HRCD 872, 5 BHRC 339, [1998] Crim LR 893
Worldlii, Bailii
European Convention on Human Rights, Magistrates Courts Act 1980
Human Rights
CitedRegina v Howell (Errol) CACD 1981
The court considered the meaning of the legal concept of a breach of the peace.
Held: The essence is to be found in violence or threatened violence. ‘We entertain no doubt that a constable has a power of arrest where there is reasonable . .

Cited by:
CitedClingham (formerly C (a minor)) v Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea; Regina v Crown Court at Manchester Ex parte McCann and Others HL 17-Oct-2002
The applicants had been made subject of anti-social behaviour orders. They challenged the basis upon which the orders had been made.
Held: The orders had no identifiable consequences which would make the process a criminal one. Civil standards . .
CitedWilliamson v Chief Constable of the West Midlands Police CA 21-Feb-2003
The claimant had been arrested by an officer entering his house to investigate a breach of the peace, then held for two nights. The police believed that he posed no continuing threat, but believed he had to be brought before the magistrates before . .
CitedRegina (McCann and Others) v Manchester Crown Court CA 9-Mar-2001
Proceedings applying for an anti-social behaviour order, were properly civil proceedings, with civil standards of evidence, and the Human Rights Act provisions relating to criminal proceedings, were not applicable either. The section included acts . .
CitedSingh and others v Chief Constable of West Midlands Police QBD 4-Nov-2005
A play was presented which was seen by many Sikhs as offensive. Protesters were eventually ordered to disperse under s30 of the 2003 Act. The defendants appealed their convictions for having breached that order, saying that it interfered with their . .
CitedLaporte, Regina (on the application of ) v Chief Constable of Gloucestershire HL 13-Dec-2006
The claimants had been in coaches being driven to take part in a demonstration at an air base. The defendant police officers stopped the coaches en route, and, without allowing any number of the claimants to get off, returned the coaches to London. . .
CitedNero and Another v Director of Public Prosecutions Admn 29-Mar-2012
Parties appealed against convictions for aggravated trespass under the 1994 Act arising from trespassing demonstrations. They argued that the lawfulness of the activity being carried out on the land subject to the trespass is an ingredient in the . .
See AlsoSteel and Morris v United Kingdom ECHR 15-Feb-2005
The applicants had been sued in defamation by McDonalds. They had no resources, and English law precluded legal aid for such cases. The trial was the longest in English legal history. They complained that the non-availablility of legal aid infringed . .
CitedRoberts and Others v Regina CACD 6-Dec-2018
Sentencing of Political Protesters
The defendants appealed against sentences for causing a public nuisance. They had been protesting against fracking by climbing aboard a lorry and blocking a main road for several days.
Held: The appeals from immediate custodial sentences were . .
CitedHicks and Others, Regina (on The Application of) v Commissioner of Police for The Metropolis SC 15-Feb-2017
The claimants had wanted to make a peaceful anti-monarchist demonstration during the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. They complained that the actions of the respondent police infringed their human rights by preventing that . .

These lists may be incomplete.
Updated: 10 February 2021; Ref: scu.165662