Who & Why?
I am pleased to say that I am not a lawyer. I am not going to explain
much law here. This site is to provide political advice to activists facing
the increasing threat of litigation. It is the information we
would have killed for (in a nonviolent fashion) some years ago when a wave
of defamation actions swept over the South Australian environment movement.
Over two years the strongest campaign I had seen in 16 years of grassroots
political activism was silenced by the legal system and by its own fear.
I never want to see that happen again - and it need not!
This site is based on my activist experience following some dozen
Island related defamation cases in the 1990s, assisting the SA Conservation
Council's barrister through the Council's 9 week trial and the Appeal, reading
too many cases, surviving two separate threats to sue me, working with and being
the court representative of Animal Liberation SA in a five year case which has
included defeating two
attempted injunctions, a
contempt of court charge, and
two attempts to strike out all defences, and finally, dealing with the massive
case against environmentalists brought by Tasmanian logging giant
Gunns Ltd beginning late in 2004.
The book about that experience is GAGGED: The Gunns 20
and other law suits.
We need law reform.
We also need to play hard
and use the equine nature of the law to our advantage. But we also need
to recognise that being "litigation conscious" actually makes
for more informed and effective political activism!
The right to free speech and political protest is fundamental as a
human right, a hallmark of democratic society, and an important part
in ensuring the accountability of those in power. Yet that freedom of
speech, that right and ability to participate in public debate and
political protest is as much threatened in Australia by civil
litigation as by the actions of government. But don't take my word for
it, listen to the High Court judge who found the implied freedom of
speech in the Australian constitution:
‘potential civil liability in damages and costs is likely to
represent a much more effective curtailment of the freedom of
political communication and discussion than the possibility of
conviction of most of the many criminal offences which are
punishable by a pecuniary penalty’ (Sir William Deane in
And having quoted one judge, I'll quote another to make the broader
point as to why protecting the rights of political activists is
important. Now long dead and always a subject of controversy, Justice
Lionel Murphy nonetheless said it best twenty years ago when judging
whether a Queensland Aboriginal activist, Percy Neal, should receive a
harsher punishment because he was a known activist:
‘If he is an agitator, he is in good company. Many of the great
religious and political figures of history have been agitators, and
human progress owes much to the efforts of these and the many who
Murphy went on to quote Oscar Wilde:
‘Agitators are a set of interfering, meddling people, who come
down to some perfectly contented class of the community and sow the
seeds of discontent among them. That is the reason why agitators are
so absolutely necessary. Without them ... there would be no advance
Murphy famously concluded, ‘Mr Neal is
entitled to be an agitator.’
v the Queen,  HCA)
Unfortunately, despite their love of the precedents, such sentiments
do not always fall from judges.
This is my personal website and I alone am responsible for its contents,
but thanks to the people who have provided information, publicised and supported
this website. I will not name them "out of an abundance of caution"
(as a lawyer I know would say).
No thanks to Justice Williams-Vale and the other judges, lawyers and
politicians who maintain or benefit from a legal system which has not come
to terms with free speech and the right and ability to participate in public
debate and political protest.
Mostly though, thanks to all those who, in the face
of our suffocating laws and outrageous civil litigation, stared down the threats, fought
the cases and continue to campaign to make the world a fairer, greener place.