A protest or action should never be considered over until the court process is over for the last activist and the ramifications of that addressed; until the last fine is payed, the community work finished or in extreme situations, until people are released from custody or civil actions against authorities are concluded.
Be aware of the time frames that this may involve, the expertise this requires, the financial resources this would take and plan for this when planning a protest or action. For example, when planning a protest which involves mass disobedience, plan for the fact this is likely to involve significant number of people being charged, going to court and having to pay fines. As organisers, to prepare you may want to think about organising fundraisers for possible fines early in the planning.
Progressive lawyers and activist legal workers should be involved as an integral part of the planning process for protest actions and campaigns.
If there is a chance of community legal centres being utilised at a later date, it may be a good idea to meet with your local centre and inform them of the campaign or action.
Involve legal workers as early as possible, not only after people have been arrested and charged.
If possible, organise a lawyer to be guest speaker at an organisational meeting so that the group as a whole can ask questions. Or a legal training could be organised in the lead-up to the action. See Trainings for activists section. Don't expect lawyers to do this for free or as a matter of course, and even if they do, don't expect the advice to continue. However you may be able to negotiate an arrangement that will cost nothing for your group.
From this may arise interest from individual lawyers who may choose to help with the Legal Support Team. However if nothing else this will cover the introductions between the lawyers, legal centres and activists.
A basic knowledge of the legal system can be useful for planning campaigns and actions.
For more information see the DIY Legal Research section.
If you are not sure, a start with this website. When you seek legal advice, attempt to find answers to these questions:
- Whose jurisdiction is the protest site under?
- Will the State or Federal police be there?
- Which police command will be involved?
- Is the protest site on public or private land?
- If it is private who is the owner?
- Is the protest on Commonwealth land?
- What Acts or legislation are relevant to the action you are planning?
- Are there local by-laws that may impact?
- What potential charges could be applied to those involved in the action?
- What are the maximum and likely penalties for these charges?
- What is the history of these charges being laid by police at similar actions?
- What sort of civil litigation is the campaign or organisation vulnerable to?
- What sort of legal support can be arranged for activists involved?
Once you have all this information it is possible to plan for activist legal support.
Legal Support Teams are organised groups of activists, legal students, legal workers and lawyers who provide a range of activist legal support work before, during and after the action.
It is crucial for a Legal Support Team to define for themselves and be very clear about what their role is. Legal Support may involve numerous facets:
- Providing legal advice about action options.
- Running legal information sessions and legal trainings prior to an action (as part of pre-protest direct action trainings or as stand alone events).
- Operating a legal phone/email for activists to contact the legal support team with questions or if they are in police custody.
- Training, co-ordinating and debriefing Legal Observers to attend the protest.
- Collating photos/film footage from protests (primarily in order to identify improper police action).
- Media comments about legal issues arising out of a protest.
- Assistance with pro-active legal strategies to assist a group or movement (ie. Seeking injunctions to allow a protest to go ahead).
- Providing legal advice/information to activists in custody, potentially co-ordinating lawyers for bail applications if necessary.
- Providing legal representation for people arrested at a protest or providing appropriate referrals to supportive criminal law firms, Victoria Legal Aid or a community legal centre.
- Taking evidence (including statements) from people who experienced or witnessed inappropriate police behaviour at protests.
- Providing legal advice about possible options available to people if they experienced police violence or harassment, including potentially providing information, advice, referrals or representation in relation to civil action.s
The scope of what a Legal Support Team is able to do depends upon the capacity and the expertise of the group. The demand for legal support also varies depending on the scale of the action (both in terms of people and amount of time involved) and how complex or controversial it is. However, if the action is small and involves only a few people, good activist legal support and back up is still vital. Be clear about what the parameters of what you group can and can’t do is, and make sure this is explained clearly to the individual activists, groups or movement you are providing support to. If the action you are planning is large then arrange for a Legal Support Team well in advance.