Recent incidents in Sydney indicate that NSW Police don't uniformly understand and respect the role of Legal Observers - that must change.
Police have obstructed Legal Observers; instructed them to direct protestors; directed one to stop filming; and questioned their presence at a protest.
In the absence of any police misconduct, police should have no concerns regarding the presence of Legal Observers or their recording of events.
Who are Legal Observers?
Legal Observers attend protests, usually as volunteers, to protect the rights of those protesting and to improve police accountability. Their hands-on tasks include handing out information cards, briefing people about their legal rights, taking notes and photographs and video recording interactions. Volunteer Legal Observers are recognised as Human Rights Defenders by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and as such fall under the protection of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.
While their attendance may have been requested by organisers, they are independent of the protest itself and do not take part in the protest, any decision making regarding the protest, or directing protestors.
Police must understand and respect this function
NSWCCL has written to Commissioner Michael Fuller, calling on him to:
- Ensure that Sydney police officers are briefed on the role of Legal Observers and understand that role, its legitimacy, and Legal Observers' right to carry out that role unhindered.
- Ensure that police officers do not obstruct Legal Observers as they carry out this role.
- Ensure that police officers do not instruct Legal Observers to direct protestors, but instead respect their independence.
- Ensure that police do not ask Legal Observers not to video, do not deliberately step in the way as videoing occurs, and likewise do not seek to prevent members of the public from recording interactions.
- Ensure that Legal Observers are not required to produce their ID with no grounds other than performing this role.
It is a hallmark of a successful democracy that the legal right to protest is upheld by police and that includes police and government respecting the important role that Legal Observers can play.