Court Backs WYD Activists' Right to Annoy

ABC News
July 15, 2008

Two student activists have won a court challenge to special World Youth Day laws that allowed police to detain people or fine them $5,500 for annoying or inconveniencing Catholic pilgrims.

No To Pope Coalition members Amber Pike and Rachel Evans took the New South Wales Government to the Federal Court, arguing the laws were unconstitutional because they would make their peaceful protest illegal.

The Government passed the rules two weeks ago without discussion or debate.

Amber Pike and Rachel Evans challenged special World Youth Day laws that allowed police to detain people or fine them $5,500 for annoying or inconveniencing Catholic pilgrims.

The Full Bench of the Federal Court ruled the definition of 'annoyance' was too broad and the scope of the laws was uncertain.

It found that in giving the World Youth Day Coordination Authority the power to set the regulations, the Government would not have intended to infringe on freedom of speech.

The court said the law was intended to encourage policing and public safety but could be misused to infringe on people's rights.

However, the court dismissed the second part of the university students' challenge, upholding the section of the regulations that said prescribed items could not be distributed.

It said banning the unauthorised sale of certain items, including stickers, badges and T-shirts, was not unconstitutional and did not stop free political communication.

The judges said the No To Pope Coalition would not be prohibited from handing out condoms and leaflets under the laws.

'We'll defy them all together'

Activist Rachel Evans has hailed the court's decision as a victory.

"We want to call on all Sydneysiders and defy what the State Government has tried to do in quelling our freedom of expression," she said.

"We want to see a range of annoying T-shirts, inconvenient t-shirts and we'll defy them all together.

"We can now hand out condoms, coathangers, wear t-shirts without the threat of being fined," she said.

Premier Morris Iemma says the Government will not be appealing against the court's decision. He says police still have adequate powers.

"Two words have been struck out - the words 'and annoyance'," he said.

"'Inconvenience' is still there and they can still achieve the same objective, and that is to ensure that people who do want to make a point in a protest can do so without disrupting the pilgrims or the events.

Mr Iemma says a court decision to invalidate World Youth Day annoyance laws will not affect the ability of police to carry out their duties.

"That's the law, we obey that, and the event proceeds, the police have got the powers to ensure that it is not disrupted," he said.

World Youth Day coordinator Bishop Anthony Fisher is not expecting many protests.

He says he expects people to be "swept along" in the wave of goodness from the pilgrims.

"But such protests as there are, I am very hopeful will be peaceful, respectful and there won't be any need for police interventions or big laws," he said.


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