Australia Court Declares Protest Annoyance Law Unconstitutional


July 15, 2008

[with link to the court's decision]

The Australian Federal Court ruled [opinion] Tuesday that a law giving police regulatory powers over potentially "annoying" behavior during World Youth Day (WYD) [official website] was unconstitutional and possibly exceeded legislative intent. Section 7(1)(b) of the World Youth Day Amendment Regulation 2008 [text, PDF], designed to amend and supplement Section 58 of the original World Youth Day Act 2006 [text], allowed officials to fine those who failed to comply with police orders up to $5,500 AUD. Activists from the NoToPope Coalition (NTPC) [organization website] who planned to protest some of Pope Benedict XVI's social viewpoints during his WYD visit sued [NTPC press release], saying the law abridged their freedom of communication and overstepped legislative intent. In its opinion, the court agreed that freedoms could only be so limited through clear legislative intent, and wrote that :

[T]he conduct regulated by cl 7(1)(b) so far as it relates to "annoyance" may extend to expressions of opinion which neither disrupt nor interfere with the freedoms of others, nor are objectively offensive in the sense traditionally used in State criminal statutes. Breach of this provision as drafted affects freedom of speech in a way that, in our opinion, is not supported by the statutory power conferred by s 58 properly construed. Moreover there is no intelligible boundary within which the "causes annoyance" limb of s 7 can be read down to save it as a valid expression of the regulating power.

The court upheld the Regulation's other provisions, deeming them protections of public safety and the rights of others. The Sydney Morning Herald has more. AP has additional coverage.

The NoToPope Coalition members planned to hand out condoms, stickers, t-shirts, flyers and other materials during WYD events to show support for reproductive freedom, sexual tolerance and contraception. The Pope has generally condemned [speech text] abortion, contraception, same-sex marriage and civil unions [JURIST reports], in addition to other "non-conservative" reproductive and sexual policies and viewpoints.


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