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Government & legal system

Organising a protest: Some rules you might need to comply with

Protesting in public places and the streets

WCC Public Places Bylaw 2022, Part C, clause 18 

Whether you need permission for your protest and who you need to ask depends on where you intend to protest, including what part of the country you’re in. It also depends on things like the method of protest, the number of people likely to be involved, and the time it will be happening.

Local council bylaws may require you to give notice of your march, protest, or other event. For example, Wellington City Council’s bylaws say you’ll need to get council permission if your event will affect vehicle or pedestrian traffic.

How long it takes for the Council to process your application will vary depending on the factors involved, so make sure you apply as early as you can. They may also require further information or planning, like health and safety or traffic and pedestrian management plans.

Protesting at Parliament

If you want to hold a protest on parliament grounds, you need to get permission from the Speaker of the House of Representatives:

University protests

VUW Security Policy University Campus and Premises Regulations 2014 Traffic and Parking Regulations 2019 Student Charter (Otago)

Different universities regulate protests in different ways. To find out your university’s approach, start by checking the university policies published on its website.

At Victoria University of Wellington, for example, protests are covered under clause 3.3 of the University’s Security Policy– this says, there are restricted sites that protesters will not be permitted to occupy under any circumstances. Any occupation of those sites will result in immediate notification of trespass, a warning to leave and subsequent removal if the protestors neglect or refuse to do so. You can read the policy on Victoria University’s website, here (or go to wgtn.ac.nz and search for “Security policy”).

Otago, by contrast, has relevant rules in different University regulations – for instance its University Campus and Premises Regulations say that “the posting of notices and writing slogans and messages” can only be done in places and ways set by the University, while its Traffic and Parking Regulations confirm that the University is a public place and so New Zealand’s traffic laws and regulations will apply there.

Student Charters may also include relevant rights and responsibilities when organising a protest. For example, the Otago student charter says students are expected to “promote an environment which is safe and free from harassment and discrimination,” and to “respect both University and private property.”

Organising legal observers for your protest

Legal observers are trained volunteers who support activists on protests by doing things like:

  • handing out “bust cards” to protestors – these are cards that have basic information about legal rights, the police’s search and arrest powers, and phone numbers for suitable lawyers
  • keeping notes about how the police behaved on the protest
  • monitoring arrests, including helping the arrested protestors at the police station to connect with lawyers and other support, and finding witnesses to the events.

Some organisations in Aotearoa provide training and guidance for legal observers – for example, Community Law Wellington & Hutt Valley.

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