This section contains a sample agenda for a short activist legal training and links to other training resources throughout the site. Use other handouts on this site as required.
Designing a Legal Training
Each activist group has different needs and experience levels so strive to tailor each training accordingly.
It is important to work with the activists and any lawyers involved to make sure your information is relevant, authentic and accurate. The strength of activist legal trainings is that we can tailor a training for a group’s specific needs without having to create an entirely new workshop.
It is important that trainings be more than just quick listings of possible charges and likely fines. These can sometimes deter activists rather than empower them.
When it comes to disseminating skills which allow activists to be safe, more effective, and make informed decisions, role-plays are a highly effective training method.
Good activist legal training includes a series of brief role-plays, where trainers take the role of police officers and participants play the role of the activist.
Each role-play is accompanied by a brief discussion, and a question and answer session, before moving on to the next role-play. The format keeps the audience’s attention, and drives each lesson home.
A simple training can include 10 such role-plays in about two hours.
As a trainer you can expand your menu of role-plays to include things like:
– an arrestTo take into custody. at a protest,
– police attempts to intimidate activists into giving up their rights,
– police attempts to move a stall,
– police attempts to use bluff and threats when questioning an activist, or
– police attempts to search an office or home.
Sample Training Agenda
This agenda has been adapted from the Libertas Legal Collective (their site is currently unavailable).
As people enter the space for the workshop, have two trainers pretend to be police to ‘question’ and ‘book’ the participants as they come in the door.
Police should use ‘bluff’ and state that they will be arrested if the don’t give their names and addresses. Police should attempt to get participant’s names and look at IDs.
This should be semi-realistic (costumes (or something identifying them as “police”, notebooks, etc.) – but not over the top.
“Police” should not touch participants or their belongings or physically block the entrance. This is just an introductory role-play, it should be interesting and exciting – not daunting.
Participants who assert their rights / don’t engage with police should be able to enter the room.
Participants who complied with “police” can be allowed in once they have given their name and address.
Have participants introduce themselves, debrief the role-play, and describe what they would like to get out of the workshop.
Facilitators to briefly introduce and describe three core principles of activist legal support:
- Legal Information needs to be accurate, comprehensive, accessible and useful.
- Activist legal support should be well-planned, capable and effective to meet the level of legal or political repression that we face.
- Solidarity involves a broad range of behaviours and tactics to take care of each other and support one another.
We have more power when we act together than when we act alone.
Solidarity is the way we protect each other in our struggles, share the consequences, and mitigate the suffering we encounter when confronting oppressive power. The purpose of solidarity is to build our movement, and to embody our mutual care and concern for justice .
Read more: Starhawk, Solidarity: A Rough Guide.
Group to brainstorm human, civil, political, common lawThe part of English law traditionally based on common custom and being unwritten. Law which is not equity (q.v.), statute (q.v.), ecclesiastical (church), or civil (i.e. Roman). rights that they are aware of. Trainers to highlight others. Discuss or distribute summaries of the ICCPR.
Facilitator to begin discussion:
Obviously, there is a difference between our rights in theory and our rights in practice. It is up to you decide when and how you wish to assert and exercise your rights.
In general, when interacting with police or other agents of the state, it can be useful to assert your rights when you feel they are being violated, but fighting or arguing with them is often pointless and may make you the target of greater repression.
Discuss ways of asserting civil and political rights: going to a protest or rally, using legal or human rights observers, via police liaison, inform media when rights infringed, fighting the violations of rights afterwards in the courtroom, or in the court of public opinion.
Also see: Our rights to protest section of this website.
Ask group to brainstorm (on paper or split into small groups) activist legal support needs for each of the headings below: (It may be valuable to use current campaign or action to focus discussion.)
Before arrestTo take into custody.
prepare with your affinity group to have a legal support person who will be in contact with the legal team, inform yourselves about the law, plan for the possibility of arrestTo take into custody. and consequences, and any non-compliance tactics you may want to use (e.g. response to arrestTo take into custody., leaving ID with the support person).
During arrestTo take into custody.
focus outwards notice who is witnessing the arrestTo take into custody., what are the circumstances, think of ways to support the people being arrested, stay calm and maintain dignity.
After arrestTo take into custody.
Get in touch with the legal team, report the arrestTo take into custody., write down information (times, badge numbers, etc.) as soon as possible.
think about the things you may need in detention (medicine, etc.), the people who should be contacted (family, work…) or things that should be done (feeding pets…).
communicate with the people who you are detained with and support each other, identify vulnerable members of the group and try to find ways to protect them from oppression. Use group decision-making to decide if you want to engage in non-compliance (e.g., refusing to identify, passive resistance, refusal to wear clothes, hunger strikes, etc…) or other tactics, and what the goals of such tactics are. Don’t pressure others into using non-compliance tactics. For people on the outside, this means not forgetting about people on the inside, and letting them know we are there for them, even if they are in for a while.
don’t be afraid to talk about your experiences detention can be traumatic, and you may not feel the effects right away. Be there to support others when they leave detention.
the trial can be a long and isolating process, especially if you plead not guilty, and you will need to support each other throughout both inside and outside of court. This will also involve helping to raise funds for defence, and helping to keep track of everyone as they go through the system. There is nothing more depressing than being the one person in a large group who happened to get charged with a political “crime”, and finding yourself alone during your court appearances. Be there to support your friends, comrades, fellow activists.
Use a short role-play to start off discussion of police powers and your rights.
Roleplay: interacting with police.
Police officer approaches activist and tries to get information, ID and search bag, pockets. Let group suggest what the activist’s rights are.
Speaking to police Points to make:
- In general, you are under no obligation to speak to police officers or to answer their questions (certain exceptions, such as when driving…).
- Ask if you are under arrestTo take into custody., if not, make it clear you wish to leave, try to walk away.
- Right not to be arbitrarily detained or imprisoned.
- Right to remain silent.
Remember: it is probably better to say nothing than to lie to the police lying can lead to charges of obstruction.
The police are trained professionals and have many techniques for gathering information that may not be obvious to you. Any information you give them can and will be used against you (both in court and outside of court), even seemingly unimportant comments help them to make connections between people and groups in our movements, or to become more familiar with our modes of communication.
Even if, for whatever reason, you decide to talk to the police, do not talk to the police about others let other people decide if they want to share information about themselves with the police.
There is no obligation to carry or show identification in Australia, except:
- if you are driving a motor vehicle you must show licence, insurance, registration passengers do not need to identify themselves.
- if you have committed an offence, you are under obligation to identify yourself refusal can lead to charges of obstruction and/or failure to identify and you can be arrested or detained until you identify yourself.
- if you are in a location not accessible to minors (bar, casino, restricted movie, etc.) you may have to show proof of age.
If police ask you to identify yourself, they are also under the obligation to identify themselves, at least by giving you their name, station and badge number.
Don’t hesitate to ask them to identify themselves, and write down the number (or memorise it).
Police search role play:
Two or more police arrive at the front door of your office for a noise complaint.
Go out onto the sidewalk, speak to them on public property.
You can do this in groups of 3+ or ask for a volunteer and act out the role play to the whole group.
Points to cover in the debrief
They have no right to come onto private property without consentAgreement to an action or arrangement. See also: informed consent. unless:
- they have reasonable grounds to believe a crime is in progress
- they are in hot pursuit of a suspect/escapee, or
- they have a search warrantA document issued by a court directing/ allowing an officer to do something.
For example: a warrant of apprehension (directing that a person be arrested and brought before a court); a warrant of commitment (directing that a person be arrested and imprisoned); a warrant of distress (directing that a person’s goods be seized to satisfy a debt); or a search warrant (directing or allowing a person’s house or workplace to be searched)..
If they have a search warrantA document issued by a court directing/ allowing an officer to do something.
For example: a warrant of apprehension (directing that a person be arrested and brought before a court); a warrant of commitment (directing that a person be arrested and imprisoned); a warrant of distress (directing that a person’s goods be seized to satisfy a debt); or a search warrant (directing or allowing a person’s house or workplace to be searched).:
- ask to see it as well as their identification.
- Write down names and badge numbers, and call your lawyer as soon as possible.
- Make it clear that you do not consentAgreement to an action or arrangement. See also: informed consent. to the search, but do not interfere with the search (you could be charged with obstruction).
- Keep a list of anything they take with them or damage.
The police do not have the right to search you or take your stuff unless:
- you are under arrestTo take into custody.
- they have a search warrantA document issued by a court directing/ allowing an officer to do something.
For example: a warrant of apprehension (directing that a person be arrested and brought before a court); a warrant of commitment (directing that a person be arrested and imprisoned); a warrant of distress (directing that a person’s goods be seized to satisfy a debt); or a search warrant (directing or allowing a person’s house or workplace to be searched)., or
- they have reasonable grounds to believe you have an illegal weapon or drugs in your possession (the way you look, talk or dress and the company you keep are NOT reasonable grounds for a search).
Always verbally refuse to give consentAgreement to an action or arrangement. See also: informed consent. to a search and make it clear to the police and to any witnesses that you are refusing.
If the police believe they have the right to search you, they will do it anyway, but your refusal may make anything they find inadmissibleNot allowed; i.e. not able to be used as evidence in a court action. and may allow you to pursue sanctions against the officers for illegal search and seizure.
Although you should always refuse a search (even if you think it might be lawful), it is rarely a good idea to physically resist a search.
You technically have the right to defend yourself against unlawful searches, but police have the right to use necessary force to make you comply with a search if they have reasonable grounds to believe it is lawful.
It is usually safer to let the police search you and then fight about this in court.
In particular when it comes strip searches (removal of clothes, but police can’t touch you), you have the right to be searched by an officer of the same gender, and in relative privacy. Strip searches should not be used as a form of intimidation or punishment.
The police can arrestTo take into custody. you if:
- they have a warrantA document issued by a court directing/ allowing an officer to do something.
For example: a warrant of apprehension (directing that a person be arrested and brought before a court); a warrant of commitment (directing that a person be arrested and imprisoned); a warrant of distress (directing that a person’s goods be seized to satisfy a debt); or a search warrant (directing or allowing a person’s house or workplace to be searched). for your arrestTo take into custody. or are aware that a warrantA document issued by a court directing/ allowing an officer to do something.
For example: a warrant of apprehension (directing that a person be arrested and brought before a court); a warrant of commitment (directing that a person be arrested and imprisoned); a warrant of distress (directing that a person’s goods be seized to satisfy a debt); or a search warrant (directing or allowing a person’s house or workplace to be searched). for your arrestTo take into custody. is outstanding, or
- they have “reasonable grounds to believe” that you have committed or are about to commit an offence.
Everyone has the right on arrestTo take into custody. or detention to:
- be informed promptly of the reasons for their arrestTo take into custody.;
- to speak to a lawyer and a friend or family member to be informed of that right; and
- have the validity of the detention determined by way of habeas corpusTo have the body. A prerogative writ (q.v.) directed to a person who holds someone in custody commanding him or her to produce that person before a court. (being physically brought before a court) and to be released if the detention is not lawful.
Trainers to discuss and reiterate the following points:
- The police are trained professionals who have many tricks to try to make you talk.
- You have to insist that you do not wish to discuss anything about the charges.
- It is unwise to get into discussions about other seemingly innocuous things (like sport or the weather).
- Don’t assume that casual discussions are not a way to gather information about you or the charges.
- In the cells, do not discuss your case with anyone.
- You should remain silent.
- And request to speak to your lawyer immediately.
- Do not waiver.
- Do not sign any declarations.
- Do not discuss anything about your case.
- Do not even discuss an alibiDefence to a criminal charge on the grounds that the accused was somewhere other than the scene of a crime when that crime was committed..
- Choosing to exercise your right to remain silent will NOT be held against you by the court, although the police might try to convince you otherwise.
- It can be used against you if you stay silent for some questions but answer others. You must stay silent for all questions.
- Explain the term “no comment” and demonstrate how to exercise the right to silence during an interview.
- Don’t ask other people about their cases, and remind them not to talk if they start to tell you things you don’t need to know.
You might decide not to identify yourself. Or you may decide to identify yourself but not to provide your home or work place address.
There can be very practical reasons why you would not wish the police to have this information.
If you refuse to provide this type of information then you will likely be held for a bail hearing in the court.
Discuss the purpose of bail. Clarify the difference between ‘own recognisance’ and ‘monetary bail’.
Explain the common police strategy of placing special conditions on bail. And discuss the tactic of bail resistance, the collective refusal to sign bail till a certain demand is met, such as the removal of a bail condition.
Briefly discuss the new Victorian bail laws, including:
- what ‘exceptional circumstances’ means;
- what ‘show compelling reasons’ means; and
- how committing an offence on bail can put you at risk of being remanded in prison.
See Release on bail and print and distribute copies of section Police powers and your rights.
Print sections on Impact of criminal record and Police powers and your rights then handout.
In small groups or in pairs ask participants to discuss their fears and concerns about the possibility of getting arrested and charged. Then bring everyone back to the group for a discussion.
Points to cover in the group discussion:
Some activists choose to disobey or break a law as an act of civil disobedience: the deliberate, open and peaceful violation of particular laws, regulations or instructions which are believed to be morally objectionable or unreasonable.
Other activists go to great lengths to avoid arrestTo take into custody. or see arrestTo take into custody. as an unfortunate consequence of taking part in an action.
ArrestTo take into custody. can effectively remove you from the action, make you vulnerable to police abuse, and tie you up for months in court action.
Whatever your views on getting arrested, before participating in any political action that involves the risk of arrestTo take into custody., two questions are worth considering:
- Will getting arrested at this action help to achieve the campaign’s strategic aims?
- Are you willing and able to withstand the personal consequences of arrestTo take into custody. and possible charges and convictions that may result?
The second question can only be answered by reference to your own conscience. And this may require considerable deliberation on the consequences and impacts.
Also highlight the length of the process: if you plead not guilty, your trial and appeals could last for years (literally!) many people plead guilty just to save themselves the hassle.
Ask group to brainstorm offences and charges that they have heard of or heard other activists have received.
List on board the most common offences or charges and offences relating to this particular campaign or action.
Distribute handout on Common charges and offences. Also distribute handout on Possible penalties.
Distribute the handout: Legal support person info sheet (available at Support team resources)
Discuss the roles of a legal support person and highlight current campaign legal support structures such as the Legal Support Team, arrestTo take into custody. support, access to lawyers etc.
Discuss importance of solidarity strategies and support structures.
Distribute appropriate phone numbers; and also suggest having the legal support number in permanent marker somewhere on your body on the day of the protest.
See pro-formas at Support team resources.
Trainer to ask group: What would the police really like to find on you if they could?
Highlight importance of:
- leaving any illegal drugs behind;
- remembering what might be construed to be a weapon;
- making your decision on what I.D. to bring or leave behind;
- leave behind your address books and any other papers that you don’t want the police to see.
Evaluate training workshop by a quick go-around asking the group for:
- ‘One thing you learnt that you didn’t know previously’ (or if nothing new learnt, one section/ role play they found the most useful; and
- One thing that they want to learn more about or that they think was missing from the session.
Thank the participants for attending and close the session.