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Police acted contrary to law when prohibiting wearing of gang vest

The police acted unlawfully when they forbade a person to wear a gang vest at a motorcycle fair and asked him to leave the venue, says Deputy-Ombudsman Jussi Pajuoja.

The person who complained to the Ombudsman had been at a motorcycle fair wearing a vest identifying him as a member of a biker gang.  In the café there he had been approached by police officers who had asked him to remove the vest and take it to the wardrobe. When the complainant refused to do this, he was asked to leave the fair, which he did.

The police invoked the Assembly Act, under which they can, when necessary, issue instructions or orders to uphold public safety. According to the police, wearing the vest can cause a danger to public order and safety, fear in other people and provoke a row.

Dress belongs in the sphere of privacy

Deputy-Ombudsman Pajuoja takes the view that protection of privacy includes the right to live one's life without unwarranted intervention by the authorities or other outsiders. The right to determine how one dresses is also included in the sphere of privacy. It can be interfered with only on the basis of an Act.

In special circumstances, such as in a prison, the wearing of a gang vest can be restricted for reason of order, supervision or security and is provided for in the Prison Act. There is no general legal provision concerning restrictions on dress.

In Deputy-Ombudsman Pajuoja's assessment, the situation did not involve any threats of a kind that would have justified intervening, on the basis of the Assembly Act, in relation to wearing the vest. He points out in his decision that fundamental rights take primacy and that provisions making it possible to interfere with them must be interpreted narrowly.

The Deputy-Ombudsman likewise did not find any lawful grounds to remove the person from the scene. He had not caused a disturbance or a danger to public order and safety. The only reason for removing him appeared to be that he was wearing a gang vest.

Additional info will be provided by Legal Adviser Mikko Eteläpää, tel. +358(0)9 432 3359.