Challenge to right of assembly

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The public's right to peaceful non-obstructive assembly on the highway was hanging in the balance yesterday after the Director of Public Prosecutions launched a potentially far-reaching challenge in the High Court.

The case arises from the clearing of the first two people charged with the new offence of "trespassory assembly", and is the first test of whether the police can lawfully use new public order powers to clamp down on peaceful demonstrations. The dispute concerns arrests at Stonehenge, but a ruling in favour of the Crown could put people at risk of criminal prosecution if - without obstructing other members of the public - 20 or more of them congregated outside a fur shop or a school where parents felt a crossing was needed.