Free speech court victory over illegal move-on notices

Kamala Emanuel at a rally for equal marriage in May.

Perth activist Kamala Emanuel won a resounding victory on May 28 in an important court case addressing the right to protest.

Emanuel was charged with failing to comply with a police move-on notice that was issued during a protest rally against fracking in April last year. Emanuel did not dispute that she refused to comply with the move-on order but argued in court that the move-on notice was invalid.

The police officer who issued the move-on notice said Emanuel had been disorderly before the issuing of the notice. Police witnesses and the prosecutor argued in court that any behaviour that was not “orderly” should be classified as “disorderly”.

Magistrate Richard Huston found that Emanuel was not in fact being disorderly and that the police officer had no reasonable grounds to believe that she was. Therefore the move-on notice was invalid and Emanuel was “not guilty”.

The significance of this decision goes beyond the particular incident in question.

Move-on notices are controversial because they give Western Australia police a power that in practise is used in an arbitrary way against Aboriginal people, homeless people and others.

Move-on notices are also used unfairly against activists and protesters, as in Emanuel's case. Before Emanuel was issued with a move-on notice, Perth City Council rangers had tried to suppress the entire rally against gas fracking. They seized banners, placards and tables, saying they were in violation of council by-laws.

The issuing of two police move-on notices at that rally was a use of police power to support an undemocratic council attempt to suppress a legal, peaceful rally. Emanuel was holding onto a banner to prevent its seizure by council rangers when she was issued with the move-on notice.

One significant finding by the magistrate in Emanuel's case was that the council rangers had no legal authority to seize the banner that Emanuel was holding.

“This court decision is an important victory for the right to protest,” Emanuel told Green Left Weekly. “More important again was the victory won by a wide range of Perth activists in waging the free speech campaign [after last year's rally against fracking].''

Emanuel was referring to repeated actions that challenged council attempts to suppress protests and won in practice the right to set up campaign stalls and to protest in Perth city. Council rangers have taken no significant action to suppress political activism in Perth since last year's free speech campaign began.

“This court victory will also give further confidence to Perth activists that we have the right to protest and that we should not put up with being pushed around by police and rangers if they again try to suppress our protest actions,'' Emanuel said.

Perth free speech campaign 2012

Court victory 28 May 2013