Activist Rights

Common charges and offences

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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.

This section has information about what you or your friends might be charged with while attending or taking part in protest activity.

These are common charges and this section does not include all the offences you could be charged with. 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 police or prosecutions. It is not possible to accurately predict which charges police may apply at a particular protest.

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.

Summary vs Indictable offences

‘Indictable’ offences have more serious consequences. Most offences found in the Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) and the Wrongs Act 1958 (Vic) are indictable offences. Generally, offences that are described as being level 1-6 (or punishable by level 1-6 imprisonment, fine, or both) are indictable. All other offences in these Acts are presumed to be summary.

‘Summary’ offences have less serious consequences than ‘indictable’ offences. As well as in the above Acts, ‘summary’ offences can be found in the Summary Offences Act (Vic).

Generally speaking, summary offences are determined in the Magistrates Court, while Indictable offences are determined in the County Court (although for some indictable matters, you can elect to have your case heard ‘summarily’ before a Magistrate.)

At the risk of generalisation, most charges laid at protest actions are relatively minor. Most criminal charges laid at protests are summary offences.

For 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.

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.

This information is general. If you are charged, always seek specific legal advice. It is important to get advice at the earliest opportunity.

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