Activist Rights

Support Teams

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A well organised Support Team, with clearly designated roles, is important to the success of an action.

A Support Team ideally has members in an office base which include:

– an information coordinator 
– media spokes
– members on the streets, and
– people able to visit activists at police stations if arrests occur.

The Support Team can coordinate, liaise, build trust and facilitate communications, as well as acting as witnesses and providing updates on the status of protests and actions.

Support Team Roles

The Support Team Office can also be a tent or vehicle if the action is outdoor or isolated.

Information Coordinator

The job of the IC is one of the most challenging. It involves:

  • Having a good overall sense of what’s happening both in the streets and in the office
  • Knowing how the office systems are set up, how they are working or not working, and changing them in order to make them more effective
  • Determining what info has been sufficiently corroborated and should be shared across the network
  • Coordinating volunteers
  • Handling difficult situations, possibly including but not limited to: angry callers, person shortages, talking to lawyers, arrestees in need, and confused, sleep-deprived, or slacking volunteers

Also, in large, complex actions:

  • Communicating between the Legal Observer Team and the support team office
  • Calling and dispatching lawyers with a legal team member
  • Taking calls from the Legal Team (if there is a designated line for them to call)
  • Deciding what information needs to be conveyed to lawyers
  • Organising lawyer visits (to where, to whom).

One of the hardest things to do efficiently is to get important information from the phones out to the broader network (or up on to office update charts). Whatever you as the IC decide, the most important thing is that you communicate with the volunteers about what they should be doing to help you facilitate the flow of information. In large actions, it is helpful to have at least two ICs, with at least one in the office at all times.

Other information systems you may want to think about:

  • How and where to compile arrestee questions, requests and messages 1) for lawyers and 2) for others
  • How to make sure important information gets communicated between lawyers and the support team
  • Where to keep Police Complaint Reports and other sensitive information
  • How to make sure the AG legal support person information is being updated.

Office support

It is important to keep people safe and healthy. This often gets overlooked. The Office Support makes sure:

  • People are eating and sleeping
  • There is food in the office and meals prepared
  • The office is a relatively sane, calm and orderly space 
  • Office rules are followed.

Media management

In a mass action scenario, the legal office will receive a lot of media calls. Because whatever we say to the media can be used against us and against those arrested, the support team must be very careful when talking with the media. Volunteers should refer all media calls to the IC or another person designated to talk to the media.

All members of the support team should:

  • Have an agreement about what information should be communicated when and by whom
  • Go to a media training
  • Know how to refer calls to the media team for the action or asking journalists to call back at a later time (especially when the office is busy).

It’s important to have support team members or representatives on the streets in order to:

  • Build trust and confidence in the legal support team
  • Troubleshoot – go to places where civil disobedience and/or mass arrest is occurring in order to act as a police liaison ( only if there isn’t one already), take notes, and be reliable witnesses
  • Pass out stickers and other legal info
  • Give updates to activists on numbers of arrests, and activity in courts
  • Call the support team office with updates from the streets.

*Note: It’s nice to have lawyers on the street with legal support team members, but it is not crucial and should be the lowest priority in assigning lawyers to tasks. Importantly, a lawyer who is a witness to an incident will probably not be able to work on that case later.

Depending on the city and the political context, support team members may or may not be able to do police cell visits with lawyers.

If they can, they will be able to:

  • Get pertinent but legally sensitive info from arrestees
  • Give arrestees emotional and moral support
  • Build trust and confidence in the support team and in each other
  • Share information between arrestees
  • Share information about action on the streets, and any activity in the courts (e.g.: bail hearings)
  • Call legal office with updates from the cells.

If arrestees are using Jail Solidarity, support teams can:

  • Arrange group meetings
  • Arrange group negotiations
  • Facilitate communication amongst all arrestees about strategies, tactics, demands, and negotiating positions
  • Call legal office with updates from the cells.

If activists cannot go into cells with lawyers, there are other options. The legal team might choose to send a member down to the police station to meet with the lawyer before and after the visit. They might also choose to get people in to do cell visits one-on-one. The purpose of these would not be to discuss their case or specific situation, but to give moral and emotional support to the arrestee.

Many of these suggestions can also work to support someone who is being held on remand in a prison.

Give emotional and moral support to activists being released from custody by:

  • Being physically present when someone is released
  • Having food and drinks and any medications they may need ready for them
  • Have a change of clothes ready for them if appropriate
  • Help people find a ride home
  • Other important things such as:
    • Having everyone released fill out detainee forms
    • Having everyone fill out police misconduct reports
    • Photograph/videotape and document injuries
    • Take statements on tape recorder

Give people being released information about:

  • Free legal advice clinics
  • Continuing contact details for the support team

Call the legal office with updates on their release and consider organising a continuing physical presence (such as a vigil) for those still in custody.

Get as much information about defendants as possible including:

  • Name
  • Case number
  • Charge
  • Plea
  • Arraignment, mention or other hearing date
  • Conditions of release
  • Bail
  • Judge
  • Prosecutor
  • Courtroom number

Also:

  • Give emotional and moral support to defendants and their friends
  • Help build trust and confidence in the legal support team by providing good support, reliable information, and doing what you say you will do
  • Network with lawyers
  • Call legal office with updates from courts

If practicing Jail/Cell or Court Solidarity, a support team member might be asked to help with negotiations. As a member of the negotiation team, they would:

  • Help convey to the prosecutor the positions of the activists
  • Make sure lawyers are accurately representing the positions of the activists
  • Help convey the strength of solidarity and the trust and confidence the arrestees have in each other
  • Call support office with updates.

Information sharing is one of the most difficult things to do effectively in a legal support team.

Information sharing is challenging within the office and also between the street/away teams and the office team.

Having office systems set up in advance, and well-trained volunteers, will help internal information sharing.

Regular meetings, good mobile phones, and designated check-in times are ways that can facilitate information flow between away and office teams.

Support for Arrestees

When we take action against an unjust system, we often find ourselves facing the possibility of arrest.

At times, risking arrest may be a planned part of our action: in other situations we may deeply desire to avoid it. Nevertheless, activists get arrested. Planning, preparation, support and solidarity can help us protect each other and continue to build our movement.

Solidarity refers to how you act together in the face of oppression to strengthen and build your movement.

Some jail solidarity strategies and court solidarity strategies involve using the strength of numbers to pressure the system into assuring equal treatment for all, and into accepting demands that they reduce or drop charges. Activists have employed a variety of tactics to ensure that the police keep them in jail, where they cost the system the most money and trouble. Activists arrested in certain actions have also all pleaded not guilty so as to clog the court system.

These strategies require planning, preparation, and the commitment that arises from the group’s decision making process. They work well in situations where there is some social restraint on police brutality, and when people’s differing needs and life circumstances are respected.

Guilt free solidarity can empower the people who take part in it: but it is also exercised at a cost. Even in the US and Canada, political prisoners have been brutalised, tortured and even killed. Regular prisoners face these dangers every day.

In countries and situations where there is less restraint on the police, where people are being severely beaten, brutalised, or potentially murdered in jail, solidarity may best be exercised by putting pressure on the system from outside.

Ideally, have a legal support team in place, with lawyers and legal workers trained to understand the principles of solidarity. At the very least, know some lawyers you can call on for emergency help.

Inform people. Trainings and preparations should include basic legal and jail information. Legal briefings can be offered before the action. Handouts with basic information and phone numbers can be available at the action.

Know what your solidarity strategy is, and include information about it in trainings and preparations.

Know who your political allies are that you can call on for support. Unions, NGOs, sympathetic politicians, Green Party members, religious groups and progressive mayors may not be willing to go out on the streets with you, but are often willing to help get people out of jail, or to pressure authorities to provide decent treatment. Progressive journalists, and civil liberties groups and legal associations are often your best ‘safety net’ in terms of generating immediate public debate and support for your cause.

You need to be aware of how your actions and strategies can be used against you by authorities and the media. If your group can be painted as being ‘extreme’, then it may make it less likely that you can generate support and solidarity. It can also provide authorities with the opportunity to increase repression of your group. In the Post 911 environment, use of emotionally laden tags like ‘terrorist’ and ‘extremist’ can be used by authoroties and commentators in order to drive a wedge between specific activists and the general public. In taking on specific actions or protest activity it is always worth considering how that action could ‘play out’ in the media or whether it might alienate potential supporters.

Before going to an action where arrest is a possibility, each person, or each affinity group, should arrange a home support person who expects a call at an agreed time. If that call is not made, they will assume their action buddy has been arrested, and will begin to mobilise support. They should have full information on each person they’re supporting, including passport numbers or driver’s licence numbers, health issues, legal issues, etc. This is a great way to involve people who cannot do an action due to home commitments, age, physical challenges, or simply fear. Have that number memorised. It might also be good to have a second, fallback number.

Have a general support number that people can call to report information about who has been arrested, how people are being treated, etc. Ideally, have two. Make them separate from the number for the lawyers themselves – this phone needs to be kept free as much as possible in case people call from jail. Memorise the general support number or write it on your arm in indelible ink before the action.

Ideally, have another number that friends and relatives outside of jail can call for information. Make sure support people have it and are also in contact with each other.

As soon as you are arrested, begin to extend your network of support to those who did not plan on arrest. On the bus, in holding cells, in jail itself, offer moral support, practical support, and basic information on legal rights and on strategy.

In jail, collect as much information as you can about who has been arrested. If you are allowed to make phone calls, the first person who calls should convey as much of that information to those outside as they possibly can. Remember, calls can be cut off at any time. And expect all calls to be monitored by the authorities.

It’s generally easiest to reach your personal support people from jail and give them the information to pass on to the Legal Support Team, which may be busy or even blocked. But have both.

Make the authorities aware that they are being scrutinised!

Call or appear in person to demand information about specific prisoners. Knowing that someone will do this for you will help you avoid panic and despair.

Mobilise political support: This is your best protection in jail! Call, write letters, send faxes and emails to jail authorities, police authorities, politicians, etc. Mobilise others to do the same. Start close to home; with the politicians’ own constituencies. Through the Internet, it’s easy to mobilise international pressure. Be sure the phone and fax numbers and emails you provide work internationally.

Conduct a vigil at the jail itself. Inform the media. Call a press conference, give interviews, talk on the radio, arrange interviews of released prisoners, write letters to the editor. If the general media won’t cover the issue, contact Indymedia.

Organise support demonstrations at home, at embassies abroad, at government offices, etc.

Contact people who might have influence with the authorities. Is your aunt’s second cousin a government minister? Call on your political allies and enlist their help and support. Contact international organisations such as Amnesty International.

Mount legal challenges.

Providing supporting for the needs of prisoners may include the following:

  • Arranging legal defence and raising money
  • Calling a prisoner’s family, friends, job, school, etc.
  • Feeding cats, walking dogs, caring for children
  • Paying overdue bills, etc.
  • Arranging for visits by chaplains or for religious services. (In jail even the most hard-core atheist will welcome these as a diversion!)
  • If prisoners are in for a long time, supporters may visit, write letters or post money in prisoners’ jail accounts so they can buy supplies at the commissary as the situation allows.
  • Being there to pick them up, greet them, feed them and provide comfort when they get out.
  • Arranging medical care if needed.
  • Providing emotional support, counselling, and help in debriefing afterwards.
  • Remembering to support people who have been unexpectedly arrested.

This section has been reprinted with permission from the author and adapted to the Australian context.

The original version appeared on the Starhawk website.

For those arrested, charged or injured by police, the consequences of participation in the action may extend well beyond the action itself. If activists are arrested and charged as a result of this action, then activist legal support may need to continue for months if not years after the action.

One of the most difficult features of the legal process is the time it takes to reach a decision. A not-guilty plea in magistrates’ courts will generally take many months before a decision is reached. However if the case goes to appeal, even minor matters can take years before they are resolved. The presence of on going legal/organisational support is essential.

The responses to criminal charges may also affect the aims of the action itself. Will it build or undermine support for the campaign? Will a plea of guilty or a court loss create a precedent for future actions? How will this court case affect the campaign strategy?

Because court cases can be a long, intimidating and isolating experience for activists, support and solidarity is vital. It may be important to plan:

  • Legal support and representation, arranging for pro-bono legal representation and finding the best barrister for the cases
  • An Arrestees Support Group to keep everyone on charges together to plan and support each other
  • Spaces for arrestee to meet each other, share experiences and discuss how they are coping with and feeling about the charges and the legal process
  • Benefits and fundraisers to raise legal costs. (these can also raise awareness about the campaign)
  • Organising forums (issues surrounding the criminalisation of dissent, etc)
  • Use of the media around the court appearances to highlight the issues, media conferences outside the court; protests outside the court
  • Attending court with arrestee to provide support, solidarity and take notes
  • Discussing legal strategies or planning collective legal approaches
  • Celebration and debriefing for the activists after the court case, whatever the outcome
  • Support before, during and after court order (community based orders, suspended sentences) or a jail term for some or all of the activists

Case study:

The G20 Arrestee Solidarity Network (GASM) was came together after Victoria Police proceeded to arrest approximately 30 people (including minors) on charges including riot, affray, assault police and criminal damage in the weeks after the protests against the economic leaders meeting.

As many of the arrestee did not know each other prior to the protests or prior to their arrests, the solidarity group provided an important space to meet other arrestees facing similar charges. It took over two years from the time of the protest until all the court matters were finalised, and longer still until all the arrestee had completed their sentences which included community based orders, suspended sentences and time in custody. It was clear to GASM from the beginning that solidarity required a long term commitment.

Over this period of time GASM organised several benefits gigs and established a bank account to raise funds for legal support. This money was used primarily to support arrestees from interstate to travel to and from court appearances in Melbourne and to help finance an appeal against sentence for one of the arrestees. The group produced t-shirts to publically express support with the arrestees (‘I didn’t do it but I dug it’ and ‘I *heart* arterial bloc’) and badges, which also helped raise additional funds.

GASM also organised several public forums about the criminalisation of dissent at which defence lawyers, arrestees and members of the solidarity collective spoke. Members of the group wrote articles to raise awareness about the extreme police and legal response to the protest which were printed in Arena, Chain Reaction and student newspapers.

Members of GASM attended numerous court hearing with the arrestees, to provide support and solidarity. At times GASM organised protests outside the courthouse, took detailed notes of proceedings in court and put out media release about the court dates.

Some of the clear challenges faced by GASM were that not all arrestees wanted to be involved or have contact with the group. The fact that different defence lawyers advocated different legal strategies and that various arrestees chose to pursue different legal strategies also caused a lot of tensions in the group. This demonstrates the clear challenges involved in respecting that arrestees may make different decisions regarding how best to approach the legal system, ensuring that different strategies do not undermine other arrestees, but showing support and solidarity for these decisions.

Thanks to David Mossop and his article: Legal Organisation and Nonviolent Action published in Nonviolence Today

No. 16, August/ September, 1990.

Setting up a Support Team

This information has been developed to help organisers form an effective Legal Support Team for a large action.

It is a general overview of places to begin discussion and work. Read Legal Support Team roles for a look at the details and logistics of a legal support team.

It is worth using the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) as the basis of the Legal Support Team’s mandate.

Questions to consider

  • How will the legal team make decisions?
  • How will the legal team be accountable to the larger group?
  • What are the goals of the legal team? What assumptions are implicit that need to be made explicit?
  • Who are you committing to provide legal support for? (e.g. anyone arrested in conjunction with the action, only those participating in legal solidarity, only those whose tactics or charges fall inside the “action guidelines”, etc.)
  • What are likely police tactics (e.g. police picking people up in small groups after the action, rather than in mass during the action)? What are possible strategies to deal with these tactics?
  • Are there proactive legal or political steps you can take to thwart police or government harassment and repression? (e.g. intervention orders, putting the police on notice, media blitz, human rights observers etc.)

MISSION STATEMENTS OF INTERNATIONAL LEGAL SUPPORT GROUPS

In developing a operating philosophy for your group, it may be useful to draw on the articulations of other established groups committed to activist legal support

Green and Black Cross (UK)

We believe in and support the kind of democratic change that comes from below. We see in history a narrative of progressive change when people come together in the face of dominant powers to confront problems and take their fate into their own hands. Through a diversity of tactics we see change occuring in this way from the fight for the five day working week, the movements for women’s suffrage to the Poll Tax rebellion. For us, as the chant goes, this is what democracy looks like!

At the same time in these histories we find repression and abuse of social struggles by concentrated power -be that state, big business or ‘revolutionary’ Political Parties. For this reason we share a tradition and commitment to non-hierarchy and collective decision making.

Green and Black Cross has not been set up to direct a movement. Instead our role is one of support and developing the strength of movements through the practice of non hierarchy and mutual aid.

Die Rote Hilfe (‘Red Aid’) (Germany)

The Rote Hilfe is a solidarity organization that supports individuals from the left who are politically persecuted. It focuses on political refugees from the Federal Republic of Germany, but also works to support those persecuted by forces from other countries. We support all those who because of their left political activity lose their jobs, have to go before the court or are sentenced. Similarly, we support those who are persecuted in another state and who are denied political asylum here.

1. We provide both political and material assistance

  • We prepare together with the defendants before the trial and make known his/her political background, especially in public.
  • We take care of solidarity events, fundraisers and grants to ensure that the financial burden borne by many together. We aim to cover legal and court costs partially or completely, but also payments for living expenses will be paid if heavy fines are incurred, people face job loss or imprisonment or the victims or their families are in trouble.
  • With political prisoners, we maintain personal contact and advocate that the prison conditions improved, especially solitary confinement is lifted, and we demand their release.

2. The Rote Hilfe is not charity

Supporting individuals facing repression is simultaneously a contribution to strengthening the movement. Each and every one participating in the campaign should be able to do so in the knowledge that afterwards, if they face criminal proceedings are will not be left alone. One of the main purposes of government persecution is to isolate individuals who have taken to the streets together, by picking out individuals, imposing exemplary punishments as deterrents. Against this, Red Aid promotes the principle of solidarity in order to encourage the continuation of the resistance.

Besides the direct support for those affected by state repression, the Rote Hilfe aims to generally defend against political persecution. For example, we work before demonstrations to make sure that the participants are equipped and prepared to protect themselves and other from injuries, arrest and state violence. We are committed to campaigning against the strengthening of criminal sanction or repressive laws, against the weakening of the rights of the criminal defense and defendant, against isolation punishments, and against further restrictions on the freedom of speech and assembly.

It’s crucial to establish good relationships with the local legal community.

Connect with progressive legal organisations, as well as public defenders. Also, if you don’t already have ties in the local legal community, ask local activists which lawyers might be interested and who can help the legal team network.

Arrange a group meeting with all the lawyers who are interested and all members of the legal support team.

Lawyers are usually busy, so the earlier you can let them know what kind of help you will need, the better.

Make sure everyone’s commitments are clear so that you know what to expect and they don’t feel put out. Don’t expect lawyers to come to every meeting or training, but let them know what is happening and that they are welcome to come.

Communication is key. Be friendly and respectful and make them a part of your team.

Make sure legal team members and volunteers don’t always get stuck doing the same mundane tasks. This is especially true with the Away Team (the people who go out into the streets, jails, and courts), which can be fun and exciting, versus the Office Team (the people who take all of the calls and process all of the information), which can be frustrating and stressful.

The legal team can only be effective if everyone has good information. Share information effectively between Away Teams and the office as well as within the office.

Most lawyers are used to working hierarchically. There are sometimes issues with control and power dynamics between activists and lawyers. This can be a big problem when it comes to decision-making and information sharing. Be sure to identify and deal with any issues before the action.

Ensure the safety of the Legal Support Team, especially if you are holding sensitive photos, footage or other evidence of protests, or if Legal Support Team spokespeople are making media comment about sensitive issues (such as inappropriate police behaviour at protests), as they may themselves experience harassment or intimidation from authorities.

It is important to prepare for such possibilities and but measures in place to look after the safety of legal support team members, media spokes people and the information you have collected.

Basic ‘security culture’ measures are important ways to protect the safety of the legal support team.

  • Turn off phones/take batteries out/put them in another room during meetings.
  • Think about what information is distributed via email or other electronic communication.
  • If members of the group are feeling unsafe, support each other, some support tactics include daily telephone check ins, making sure people are not alone at night if they don’t feel safe in that situation etc.
  • Providing Activist Legal Support can be exhausting, time-consuming and extremely stressful. Be aware of your own limitations, and be aware of burn out. Identify it early and make sure to rotate tasks if possible to minimise these risks.

Even though the role of the Legal Support Team is to support the movement – make sure the team has appropriate support as well!

Ensure the safety of information, The Legal Support Team is likely to have access to information – such as statements about police violence, footage of police behaviour – which may be controversial and needs to be properly protected. Protecting this information requires making sure that information is subject to legal professional privilege as well as taking material steps to ensure its safety – such as keeping information in locked spaces, having duplicates or backups of important files etc. Much of this is common sense – don’t leave delicate information unprotected or lying around!

Establish processes from the beginning about how the Legal Support Team will protect information collected. Consider having a support law firm or community legal centre state that they are the lawyers on the record for any issues arising out of the protest (whether criminal or civil) and thus that they consider all protesters as potential client, and all material collected by the Legal Support Team or Legal Observers as privileged and protected as part of their client’s case.

If you are taking statements from protesters, attempt to establish a lawyer/client relationship as soon as possible (that is ask them to sign a retainer, authority to act or both) so that any statements taken or material collected is subject to legal professional privilege. Again, approach supportive legal firms or community legal centre to request whether they are happy to enter into such relationship with protesters.

Also see Activist security resources.

Volunteers are critical for the success of your Legal Support Team.

Here are some tips

Think about how you plan to train volunteers and incorporate them into the office. Do recruitment and get them involved early on so that you’ll have enough people. Coordination/scheduling of volunteers is difficult, and should be done as much in advance as possible. The legal support office or tent can be hell, and people can get burned out quickly. Show your appreciation, let people take breaks, and vary their tasks.

A key part of protecting the safety of the Legal Support Team, the information retained by the Legal Support Team and the activists and movement you are supporting is making sure that all volunteers are clear about confidentiality and privacy issues. Make sure volunteers are clear about what information from meetings or other interactions is confidential and cannot be shared further and are aware of their responsibilities around this. It may help to ask volunteers to sign a volunteer agreement specifying their objections in relation to confidentiality and privacy. Again, supportive community legal centres may be prepared to consider volunteers with the legal Support Team as volunteers for their service and then using their volunteer privacy and confidentiality agreements for this purpose would be appropriate.

Trainings

Be prepared to give trainings on Know Your Rights, Legal System 101, Legal and Video Observing, and Legal Solidarity (if you’re using it).

Also see Training for activists.

Support Person Information

There are a lot of roles the legal support person can fill. Below are some examples. Don’t feel like you’re disqualified if you can’t do them all. Just let your affinity (or wider) group know your limits so they can plan ahead and maybe someone else can help be the legal support person with you.

The Legal support person info sheet may be useful too – you can print it out and use it for each person in your group. Please keep these forms confidential and return them to the individual or hand them on to their lawyer if they request.

Download Legal support person info sheet pro-forma at Support team resources.

If people are going into a known arrestable situation, know as much of people’s info as they’re comfortable giving – including real full name, arrest history (not just activism related), outstanding warrants, responsibilities they need covered if arrested, emergency contacts. If people are unsure whether they may be putting themselves in an arrestable situation, ask them to consider these things beforehand anyway and make it clear that they should get this information to a legal support person as soon as possible.

Arrange ahead of time, and let ALL of your affinity group members know, a local number that accepts collect calls from jail where you can be reached, or that you will be checking regularly and frequently.

Know or find out people’s medical info: do they suffer from asthma, heart problems, allergies; do they require prescription medications; and record their doctor’s name and phone number.

Have access to people’s IDs, bail money (or sources of bail money – friends, parents, etc.).

DON’T GET ARRESTED. Your role as a legal support person is vital for those who are arrested and you are much more use outside than in!

When people are arrested ask the senior police officer on site to let you know where they will be taken to be processed and also what charges they may be facing. Inform them (if you have been told to) of any medical issues arrestees may have. They may split up the arrestees or may take them to a distant police station for processing, so be ready to travel.

You must anticipate, because once the action starts you will not necessarily have time to get enough down. As soon as possible after an incident or arrest (whether your own arrest or someone else’s), sit down and write out everything you remember about the incident – particularly details like times, locations, movements, statements or conversations, etc. You will be surprised how quickly you can forget details, and the trial may not be for another year or two.

Download pro-formas for Arrestee/injured Instruction Sheet and Arrest Watch at Support team resources.

Observation paper and pen – use them to:
  • Write names of arrested persons and their phone numbers, their friends’ phone numbers, their condition before they disappeared from the scene, the words spoken by police during their arrest, their words, the number of the car or wagon they are put into, etc.,
  • Write down police badge numbers and or descriptions of police involved in the arrest (of those that are aggressive, those who make arrests or are just on the scene, since sometimes there may be testimony from police who were not in fact at the scene at all. Of course, photographs and sound recordings are also useful;
  • Record significant conversations;
  • Record licence plates of vehicles (and/or squad car numbers if police vehicles) and the description and location of vehicles.

If you are witnessing the arrests yourself, take detailed notes of who has been arrested, the numbers or identifying information of arresting officers, times, and any excess force used in the course of the arrest. Be sure to write this out later as a statutory declaration if necessary.

If you are working with lawyers, please inform them of any arrests and provide all details of where the arrestees have been taken, what charges they may face, etc.

Keep security and confidentiality at the forefront of your mind. Remind people calling that phones may be tapped (the jail’s and/or yours).

Get (and keep track of) arrested people’s booking and arrest numbers and upcoming court dates.

If and when you hear from your friends in jail, contact the rest of your affinity group and others the arrested folks want informed of the situation. Update those people regularly, even if nothing’s changed.

Be able to arrange travel home for your arrested friends. This can mean arranging a friend with a car, collecting money for public transport, or providing their own transport outside the police station following the arrest.

Be available until everyone in your affinity group is out of jail.

Be able to get messages from the outside world to your arrested friends. This is a HUGE morale booster.

Start a call-in or write-in campaign. Call your local member of parliament; the police commissioner, and radio talk back lines to explain what has gone on and to let people know how many people have been arrested. Write a letter to the editor of papers like the Age, the Herald Sun or local press highlighting any issues that came about because of the arrests, including denouncing police harassment, misconduct, unlawful arrests, and/or the attempt to oppress and silence people.

Copy (and keep track of) everyone’s paperwork from the police (arrest reports, etc.), jail (booking info, property reports) and court (hearing dates, info on charges, etc.).

Remind people about their upcoming court dates by calling, mailing and emailing them.

Have extra Police Complaint forms for your affinity group members to fill out at the action, or after. They also lay the groundwork for suing the police.

Get your complaint reports to the legal team (sometimes they need to be hand delivered).

Adapted from material developed by the Midnight Special Law Collective.

Setting up a Support Team Office

It is important to have a well – organised and co-ordinated office to run complex legal support.

These ideas and suggestions are based on the S11 Legal Support Team and also from large global justice actions in the USA.

Your Activist Legal Support Office may well be in a tent or vehicle if the action is taking place outdoors or in an isolated area. The same ideas and principles apply.

 

It’s a good idea to think about how you would like the office set up before you do it.

Some things to think about:

  • Where to put wall charts so that people taking phone calls can see them
  • How to arrange desks so that the room is accessible to people who use wheelchairs or have other mobility needs
  • Where to set up tea/coffee station
  • Where to put people doing computer based tasks
  • If there needs to be a quiet space for any particular work

The legal office can use wall charts as part of the information sharing system.

The charts should be on the wall and accessible, so the info coordinator can update them.

If your office doesn’t have much wall space, you can make small charts for the contact info and tape them to each desk.

Here are the charts you may need to have before the action starts.

  • Street and jail update charts
  • Legal team updates
  • External contact numbers – phone, fax, addresses, email and websites of:
    • jails,
    • courts,
    • mayor,
    • police stations,
    • police commissioner’s office
    • prominent state and city officials,
    • influential private citizens
  • Legal contacts:
    • Liberty Victoria
    • the Victorian Council for Civil Liberties
    • community legal centres,
    • any other civil liberty organisations relevant to your group
  • Legal team contact numbers (note which numbers should not be given out to the public/ media/ police etc.)
  • Action contact numbers
    • organisers,
    • safety team,
    • communications team,
    • medical team etc.
  • Medical contact information:
    • local hospitals,
    • free clinics,
    • street medic centre
  • Fundraising information – where people can send money for the legal team
  • Where is everyone? Have a chart of courts and jails and post it with the names of lawyers and legal team members that can be moved to show where they are.

It’s important to keep a record of what calls the team makes, particularly to police stations, lawyers, and the media.

Smart phones make a record of all our calls. It is still useful to make notes about phone calls as you make them:

  • so that there is a live, running track of what is happening;
  • everyone in the team is aware of what is going on in the moment;
  • you don’t have to chase people up to find out who they spoke to and what happened.

You can make call notes:

  • in notebooks (have a safe and secure place to store these);
  • on an secure, encrypted live document; or
  • on a secure, password protected computer.

Whatever you decide to use, you should include a sample note and instructions to volunteers about what information they should record.

You should also include a key or explanation for any acronyms or categories you use.

It’s helpful to have locations of important places or streets marked out on a map.

These could include:

  • the location of a blockade
  • the route of a protest
  • police stations
  • courts
  • traffic blocks
  • any detours or construction works in place

You could have this map:

  • posted up on the office wall
  • as a digital photo
  • as a secure, encrypted live interactive map

Having printed street maps may also help legal teams and runners who need to navigate the city – and don’t want to use google or apple maps.

There will be lots of contact lists that members of the legal support team need to have access to.

Some lists shouldn’t be posted on the office wall. These lists can be printed out and given to each team member. Or kept in a computer that has a password.

These lists include:

  • Volunteer contact information
  • Lawyer contact information
  • Legal observer contact information.
  • 20-30 notebooks,
  • pens,
  • highlighters,
  • markers,
  • butcher paper or 3’ X 5’pads,
  • printer paper,
  • file folders,
  • file cabinet,
  • masking tape,
  • push pins,
  • paper clips,
  • binder clips,
  • stapler and staples,
  • post-it notes,
  • phones,
  • clocks.

All documents should be copied electronically on disk, on the hard drive, and on a USB disk if possible. Hard copies should be produced and copied according to the particular need for each document.

Arrestee / Injured Person Instruction form

(have hundreds available; each desk/phone should have a stack)

Arrestee Tracking Sheets

(numbers depend on how many people are arrested; most should be sent with the legal team member going to do outtake at the jail but some should remain at the legal office for people who we might miss).

Printed reports from databases

(each desk should have at least one copy of arrestee database, which will have to be printed each time it is updated; each desk should have at least one copy of the legal support person database.

Copies of any media releases

(one or two copies of this will be adequate, one for the flak and other legal team members working on media).

See Support team resources for above mentioned pro-formas.

Secure and well-maintained databases can be crucial for keeping track of mass arrests, injuries or police complaints.

Database for arrestees
  • Name/nickname
  • Affinity group
  • Legal support person with contact info
  • Arrest time
  • Arrest location
  • Where detained
  • Booking number
  • Gender
  • Date and time of first and subsequent contacts with legal team
  • Asked to see legal team/lawyer? How many times? When?
  • Medical info
  • Notes
Lawyer database
  • Contact numbers for attorneys
  • Each attorney’s availability/schedule
  • Time and date dispatched
  • Location dispatched to
  • Activist dispatched with
Legal observer database
  • Legal observer name
  • Contact info
  • Availability/schedule
Legal support person database
  • Affinity group
  • Legal support person name
  • LSP contact number
  • Sign a non-disclosure agreement
  • Work no more than an 8 hour shift
  • No sleeping at the office (except if you’re working a graveyard phone shift)
  • If you’re in the office, you are working
  • Know security protocol and follow it
  • Let people know what you’d like to do, what you don’t mind doing, what you need from them
  • Let people know if you’re tired, discouraged, stressed, or burnt-out
  • Let people know when you need information or help accomplishing a task.

Maintain a healthy office environment Make sure volunteers aren’t stuck doing work they hate Keep volunteers informed about office procedure and what’s happening in the streets Check in to see how volunteers are feeling and how office procedure can be improved Do an exit interview when volunteers leave to see how they felt about their experience and what they would change about office procedures.

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