Last Friday, police lost their Supreme Court bid to block an indigenous rights rally to commemorate the death of TJ Hickey (above), an indigenous teenager killed in 2004 during what many believe was a police pursuit.
But the rally went ahead last Sunday as scheduled, starting at TJ Hickey Park and ending at Sydney Town Hall.
Ken Canning, a member of the Indigenous Social Justice Association Sydney (ISJA), was informed early last week that police from the Redfern Local Area Command had filed for a prohibition order to stop the rally.
This is the second year in a row police have tried to restrict the demonstration. Last year, police blocked the rally from leaving the Block in Redfern to march into the city.
Mr Canning told Sydney Criminal Lawyers®:
“Redfern police attempted to contain the TJ Hickey march by taking the organisers to court. After lengthy negotiations between the prosecution and lawyer for ISJA it was finally agreed the march would commence at Redfern and go through to Town Hall”.
The Death of TJ Hickey
The issue of TJ Hickey’s death remains a passionate topic in the Redfern community, with many seeing it as a clear example of fractured relationship between the area’s police and indigenous community.
Mr Hickey was 17 years old when he lost control of his bicycle and became impaled on a fence next to Redfern Park. The incident sparked a nine-hour riot in the inner-city suburb that saw Redfern railway station set on fire and police pelted with rocks, bricks and bottles, leaving more than 40 officers injured.
Mr Hickey’s family and many others say he was being chased by a police car when he became impaled. However, that claim was disputed by a coroner following an inquest. The coroner found no evidence the teenager was being pursued by police when he died, even though a police car had followed him down a pathway. Mr Hickey’s family disputes the findings, and has spent years campaigning for a fresh inquest.
“If we don’t get an apology, if we don’t get permission to put the [memorial] plaque up, if we don’t get a new investigation and a new inquest, we will continue the struggle for 13 years, 14 years, 15, 20, 25, 30 years.” Gail Hickey, TJ’s mother, said.
The incident struck a chord in Indigenous communities across Australia, who believe it is symptomatic of the harassment and discrimination they face at the hands of police around the country.
Last week Amnesty International called for an independent investigation into the arrest of Natasha King, an indigenous woman claims to have been wrongfully arrested, alongside her son and daughter, after Queensland police entered her home following what has been described as a case of mistaken identity.
Protests in NSW
Although the NSW government legislated to restrict the ability of people to protest in 2006 – creating a range of legislative requirements and the offence of ‘unlawful assembly’ – the courts have traditionally taken pains to protect the ability to peacefully assemble.
In Commissioner of Police v Rintoul , the court stated that peaceful assemblies are: “integral to a democratic system of government and way of life.” Similarly, the High Court has previously interpreted the Australian Constitution as providing an implied freedom of political communication.
In NSW, protest organisers are required to inform the Commissioner of Police of their intention to protest at least seven days before the proposed event, along with a range of details including the proposed location and/or route, the number of people likely to attend and the expected duration (s 23 of the Summary Offences Act 1988).
However, police can challenge the planned gathering by attempting to impose conditions, or by seeking a Prohibition Order from the NSW Supreme court, which must be determined as soon as practicable.
Although police have no legal power to impose conditions, they often pretend they do and place pressure on event planners. In the past, police have attempted to impose limits on the number of protesters, the planned path and the method of moving between locations.
So although the government has made it harder for people to gather and express their views, the courts are loath to take away our long-established ability to peacefully assemble.