Nonviolent blockades are a very common and ancient method for people to intervene directly in an injustice occurring. Blockades have both symbolic and very practical aspects. They take many forms, from a line of people linking arms, sitting down, or standing up, to the use of physical barriers or devices such as tripods and chains.
In history, people have stood in front of tanks, bulldozers, cars and people in order to intervene directly. Blockades can occur around buildings or across roads. The legal aspects of a blockade are determined by its context, the place blockaded and the length of time the blockade lasts. Police may choose to tolerate a blockade, for instance, if it is only for a short period of time.
A very common charge for blockades of buildings in Victoria is besetting premises under section 52(1A) of the Summary Offences Act 1966 (Vic).
If the blockade occurs across a road or footpath, see Obstruction.
The section on Trespass may also be applicable depending on where the blockade takes place.
Blockades and other actions in the forests of Victoria have taken many forms, from physical human blockades to the use of ‘tall tripods’ (which were pioneered in Australia and are now used around the world) and a huge range of ‘lock-on’ devices which aim to slow the logging or clearing of forest or bushland areas.
There are a range of particular legal issues that are directly relevant for forest activists. These include:
- the charge of under section 95A of the Conservation, Forests and Lands Act1987 (Vic) (CFLA)
- the specific powers of Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE) Officers who can be designated as authorised officers under the CFLA. DSE officers also have limited powers of arrest under the Forests Act 1958 (Vic).
- the often isolated and high-risk nature of many forest based blockades and actions high levels of well organised activist safety and need to be in place.
The best source of legal information and legal support for forest activists in Victoria is the organisation Lawyers For Forests, an association of legal professionals working to promote the conservation and better management of Australia’s remaining native forests.
Critical Mass is a global event on the last Friday of each month that involves huge numbers of cyclists riding home together in major cities around the world. More of a ‘happening’ than a standard political protest, Critical Mass claims to create a celebratory, festival of sustainable transport and act out a vision of car-free urban transport systems. It also seeks to redefine the road space, challenging the definition of legitimate use of public space.
Critical Mass rides take place in most capital cities in Australia and often involve many hundreds of cyclists who highlight cycling as sustainable transport, educate car drivers about cyclist safety and create a political space for urban cyclists.
Critical Mass involves riding in a mass along often pre-determined routes, leafleting cars, ‘corking’ (temporarily blockading) motorised vehicles at intersections for safety and riding through red lights in order for the mass to stay together. The edict of ‘safety in numbers’ is maintained by keeping the mass together and creating a car-free zone as the ride moves along.
In Melbourne, Critical Mass has enjoyed a high degree of tolerance from the Victoria Police over the past nine years and now has a unit of bicycle police accompanying the ride each month. Helmet and other bicycle riding offences are enforced on occasion. The careful creation of a party-like atmosphere on the Mass has resulted in very few altercations with motorists.
Despite the Mass’s claim that ‘We don’t block traffic, we are traffic’; offences such as disobeying a traffic light are possible. However, charges such as this have not been applied over nine years.
See Critical Mass Melbourne for more information.