At the risk of generalisation, most charges laid at protest actions are relatively minor. As for other criminal charges, the police are required to prove beyond reasonable doubt that an offence has been committed. While many magistrates appear to accept the police version of events all too readily, there will be many situations where either the police account of the facts can be successfully contested, or perhaps where technical legal points will go in favour of the defendant.
Whether you are taking part in a blockade of a forest road to prevent logging, or a huge global justice action outside the stock exchange, it pays to know the law to both avoid arrests, and to avoid being convicted if you are arrested and charged.
It is not possible to provide specific legal information for the vast amount of creative and ever-changing actions that occur in Australia.
Police and prosecutors have the resources to select from an extensive menu of criminal charges. The same action often can result in very mild or severe charges, at the discretion of the magistrate. It is not possible to predict which charges police may apply at any particular protest.
However, here are some of the most common charges arising from protest activities that we expect to see again: Always seek specific legal advice.
If you are searching for legal information for a particular type of protest action seeLegal information for activists.
It is important in planning to consider that certain conduct may put activists in a position where they are liable to be arrested, which may in turn result in criminal charges, court processes and potentially a criminal record. Activists should decide beforehand whether they wish to take this risk.
Once charged, it is important to seek legal advice at the earliest opportunity.
Records and penalties
The current Victoria Police policy for release of criminal records is to provide all findings of guilt up to 10 years old. This includes court penalties given “without conviction”.
If you are going to court for the first time and intend to plead guilty, inquire about the Criminal Justice Diversion Program, which could see you avoid a criminal record if you are considered eligible and complete a diversion plan.
Penalties given in this guide are the maximum penalties available but the courts usually only impose the maximum penalty where a person has many prior convictions or commits the worst type of the particular offence.