Consumer picketing is used by unions to inform customers and consists of activities such as distributing handbills, carrying placards, and urging customers not to purchase products from the business. The criminal law protects the right of every person to go about his lawfully daily business free from interference by others. No one is under any obligation to stop when a picket asks him to do so, or, if he does stop, to comply with a request, for example, not to go into work.
Everyone has the right, if he wishes to do so, to cross a picket line. A picket may exercise peaceful persuasion, but if he goes beyond that and tries by means other than peaceful persuasion to deter another person from exercising those rights he may commit a criminal offence.
A picket is prohibited by criminal law:
- to use threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour within the sight or hearing of any person - whether a worker seeking to cross a picket line, an employer, an ordinary member of the public or the police - likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress by such conduct;
- to use threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour towards any person with intent to cause fear of violence or to provoke violence;
- to use or threaten unlawful violence;
- to obstruct the highway or the entrance to premises or to seek physically to bar the passage of vehicles or persons by lying down in the road, linking arms across or circling in the road, or jostling or physically restraining those entering or leaving the premises;
- to be in possession of an offensive weapon;
- intentionally or recklessly to damage property;
- to engage in violent, disorderly or unruly behaviour or to take any action which is likely to lead to a breach of the peace;
- to obstruct a police officer in the execution of his duty.