How our legal observers are protecting the right to protest

Last Updated on 18/02/2021 by National Justice Project

You may have seen our legal observers at the recent Invasion Day and Black Lives Matter protests, sporting hi-viz vests and briefing activists about their rights. We spoke to one of them, Romina Reyftmann, about how she helps to protect the right to protest.

To defend the legal rights of protesters, our legal observers volunteer at marches and rallies as a way to monitor the actions of police officers and ultimately hold them to account.

“We ensure that when there are protests or rallies, participants are able to assemble to voice their concerns. We help protect freedom of speech, freedom of movement, and the right to organise.” Romina, one of our legal observers, explains.

“We also ensure that interactions between the police and protesters are recorded, documented and disseminated immediately.”

Romina emphasises that the support of First Nations protesters is paramount, as “First Nations people are over-incarcerated and over-policed. This needs to stop, and legal observation is one way of preventing police misconduct and abuse.”

Their role is to improve accountability from the police and prevent the truth from being lost in the justice system. The legal observers are often seen handing out information cards, briefing activists about their legal rights, as well as taking impartial notes and video recording interactions.

“Any interactions with police on the day that is video recorded or witnessed and written down by legal observers can be used as crucial evidence, which can then be used by legal practitioners.”

The National Justice Project legal observers, who are all volunteers, undergo a two-hour induction which is followed by in-house training at the National Justice Project office. This training equips the volunteers with the skills and information they need to effectively and safely hold police to account.

Romina explains that “the fact that we do this out of office hours shows that the legal observers really care about these issues and try to ensure that the voiceless have a way to be heard.”

“It is incredibly sad that we have gotten to the point where we need legal observers to ensure accountability at protests, but we need to make sure that the truth does not get lost in our justice system.”