Speakers’ Corners and Public Liability Insurance – Questions, Answers and Advice

Public liability insurance is not a legal requirement. But it may be advisable in certain circumstances to ensure that cover is in place to meet any claims for negligence resulting in accident, loss or injury arising from an event at a Speakers’ Corner.This note examines what those circumstances might be, who should take out insurance should the need arise and the implications, if any, for Speakers’ Corner Committees.

Q. If an individual stands up spontaneously, speaks and gathers a crowd at a Speakers’ Corner, would public liability insurance be required to cover the event?

 
A. An individual using the space spontaneously would not normally require any form of liability insurance. However, an individual could become liable if, for example, he/she were using equipment which by his/her negligence caused injury, accident or damage.

Any claim made by a member of the public who, for example, sustained injury by tripping over a defective paving stone at a Speakers’ Corner, would be faced in the normal way by the landowner.

Advice: Public liability insurance should not normally be required for routine activities at a Speakers’ Corner.

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Q. Would insurance be required to cover small-scale events at a Speakers’ Corner and, if so, who should arrange it?

 
A. If the organiser (including a Speakers’ Corner Committee) has done little more than provide speakers for what it anticipates will be a small-scale event, it is unlikely that it would face any liability as third parties cannot normally be held responsible for damage, accidents or disturbance caused by visitors to a public space who are beyond their control.

A Speakers’ Corner Committee would not face liability either if the event has been organised without its involvement or if its only role has been to arrange for the third party to hold it, for example by booking a time slot (so long as it was not negligent by, for example, double-booking the reservation).

It is important, however, that any significant event should be planned carefully and, if necessary, covered by public liability insurance. Responsibility for the cover depends on who is ultimately responsible for the event.

Advice: Public liability insurance should not normally be required for small-scale events. However, much depends on local circumstances including for example the capacity and safety of the site. If in doubt, organisers should consult the local authority and emergency services (see below).

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Q. What is the position for larger-scale events?

A. If either a third party (or the Speakers’ Corner Committee itself) were to organise a major event at which it seeks to attract a significant attendance or hold a public rally or demonstration, it has a responsibility to plan ahead by consulting with the local authority, police and other emergency services and to follow their advice on issues of public safety and order.

Based on the authorities’ risk assessment, event organisers may be expected to conform to certain rules which may, for example, relate to the number of people who can safely use the space, the steps they should take to provide stewarding, first aid and other facilities and the use of equipment.

In such circumstances, public liability insurance may be advisable and some landowners may require it (please see below). As stated above, responsibility for the cover depends on who is ultimately responsible for the event.

Advice: If the organisers are planning a large-scale event, they should consult with the authorities well in advance and follow their advice on a range of public safety issues. They should also take advice from the authorities and insurers on the need for insurance cover. (They should note that any cover could be invalidated by unlawful activity, for example inciting violence.)

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Q. If the Speakers’ Corner is on Council-owned land, would the Council’s insurance cover events organised there?

A. As advised above, organisers of large events must consider, consult and follow advice on public safety issues. Even if the event takes place on local authority land covered by the Council’s own policy, the organiser could face liability if, for example, an accident occurred as a result of its negligence.

Moreover, some local authorities (including Southampton, Birmingham, Brighton and Chichester) insist on organisers of events in public spaces having public liability insurance.

Advice: If an organiser is planning a significant event on Council land, it should consult the local authority to establish what, if any, conditions it must meet and whether it is required to take out its own separate insurance cover.

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Q. Can the Speakers’ Corner Committee take out generalised insurance to cover third parties?

A. No. Such policies are not available as the cover must be taken out by the body responsible for the event to be insured.

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Q. What, typically, is the cost of public liability insurance?

A. The cost and conditions of cover vary according to the event and the insurer. Some insurers only provide cover for events involving a minimum number of people or for a maximum insurable amount. A typical starting premium for a meeting of a minimum of 100 people and a maximum liability of £1 million is, as at June 2008, around £50.

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Q. What guidance should a Speakers’ Corner Committee provide to third parties planning events at the Speakers’ Corner?

A. As discussed above, the way in which a Speakers’ Corner can or should be used will depend on local circumstances. Each Speakers’ Corner Committee should consider drawing up advice with the help of the landowner, local authority and police, which might guide local bodies as to the issues they should consider in organising events.

Advice: Speakers’ Corner Committees, drawing on the advice of the local authority and emergency services, should consider making a basic advice note available to local organisations on the planning of events. The note should incorporate any voluntary code the Committee has developed for the conduct of events themselves (please see SCT’s note on Speakers’ Corner Protocols).

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Please note that this note is intended for guidance only. It is not intended to provide legal advice on specific situations and it should not be relied on as a source of legal advice. If in doubt, Speakers’ Corner Committees and individuals or organisations using Speakers’ Corners should seek their own advice.


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