Changing the rules*

Is it a crime to wear a peace slogan at Westminster? Can your other half enter a civil partnership w

During a recent visit to London, I was surprised when a policeman at Westminster Abbey told me to cover up my T-shirt - which had a peace symbol and the word "AntiDeath" on it - because it was "political". It's actually the name of my band, but how come the police can tell me what not to wear, anyway?

Kasia Krynska, Bristol

Your bewilderment is understandable, but the situation is not as dire as you seem to assume. Only in parts of central London do the authorities have that power. A visit to tourist attractions elsewhere would have drawn little or no police attention.

Westminster is, however, subject to special rules. The Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 authorises the Home Secretary to specify anywhere within a kilometre of Parliament Square as a place in which demonstrations need prior authorisation, and in June last year, Charles Clarke designated the entire area between Lambeth Palace, Horse Guards Parade and the South Bank. "Demonstrations" are not defined, but expressions of dissent by lone individuals are specifically included - and a failure to give the requisite notice attracts up to 51 weeks in jail.

It is a draconian power, and the police have been duly careful about its exercise. In fact, the only convictions to date have targeted people whose protests were and are especially embarrassing to the government: the long-standing pacifist Brian Haw, for example, and Maya Evans, arrested at the Cenotaph for reading out the names of British troops killed pursuant to Operation Iraqi Freedom. Had it been clear that you were a musician rather than an actual campaigner against death, you would probably have been left alone.

The high court is due to consider the law's compliance with the Human Rights Act in November. It would be sensible, meanwhile, to seek official approval before visiting the designated zone again. Send a registered letter to: The Metropolitan Police Commissioner, c/o Charing Cross Police Station, Agar Street, London WC2N 4JP, at least six days in advance, stating what you plan to wear and how long you mean to wear it. Subject to any conditions imposed, you will then be immune from prosecution.

My boyfriend has always been close to this old, rich guy who recently suggested to him that they enter into a civil partnership. All he'll say is that it would be a "financial arrangement" and that it wouldn't change his feelings for me. I'm pretty narked about it. What does it mean?

A distressed romantic, Manchester

Feelings lie beyond a lawyer's expertise, but please do not simply assume physical infidelity on your boyfriend's part. Civil partnerships require merely that both parties be unrelated adults of the same gender. Sexual intimacy is not required. Nor is it prohibited, admittedly - but you can take comfort from knowing that your boyfriend will do only what he feels is right.

His explanation is somewhat puzzling, all the same. Though civil partners enjoy the same financial advantages as married couples, those advantages would necessarily exclude you.

It is always hard to calculate secrets of the heart. I find myself wondering, nevertheless, just how "old" and "rich" his potential companion might be - for if either member of a civil partnership should die, the survivor potentially inherits the entire estate of the deceased, tax-free. And if one partner is prudent enough to insure against the other's death, the sorrow can come with an ever more silver lining.

You should know, however, that their union would ordinarily have to last at least a year, and to dissolve it could take as long as five. Your boyfriend would meanwhile be disqualified from marriage.

Of course, it might be that he has never been the marrying kind.

Sadakat Kadri is a barrister and author of "The Trial: a history from Socrates to O J Simpson" (Harper Perennial, 2006). Send your civil liberties and human-rights dilemmas to: Changing the Rules, New Statesman, 52 Grosvenor Gardens, London SW1W 0AU. This column appears fortnightly

*"The rules of the game have changed" Tony Blair, August 2005

Sadakat Kadri is a human rights barrister at Doughty Street Chambers and a writer. His most recent book is The Trial: A History from Socrates to O.J. Simpson, and he is a past winner of the Spectator/Shiva Naipaul Memorial Prize for travel writing.

This article first appeared in the 28 August 2006 issue of the New Statesman, Blogs plc