The Victorian Bar viewed with concern the footage of the arrest of Ballarat woman, Zoe Buhler, on incitement charges, after she posted details of a protest against government health directives on her Facebook page.
The Bar recognises the importance of members of the community adhering to the law, as well as the lawful directions of police. That is always so, but especially acute in the context of a significant public health response.
However, it is also critical that members of the community can have confidence that the manner of enforcement of laws and directives will be proportionate and consistent.
Wendy Harris QC, President of the Victorian Bar, said “We recognise the importance of compliance with the law, but enforcement of those laws needs to be proportionate and consistent”.
In the case of Ms Buhler, who was arrested and handcuffed in her home in front of her partner and children, the Bar is concerned that the enforcement action of the police – both in arresting her and handcuffing her – appeared disproportionate to the threat she presented. The law in Victoria, explained by the Supreme Court of Victoria and the Court of Appeal in Slaveski v Victoria and Perkins v County Court of Victoria, is that a police officer is not entitled to use handcuffs on a person merely because an arrest has been made. The footage of Ms Buhler’s arrest portrays no threat posed by her conduct which was suggestive of the need to apply handcuffs.
Consistency in the enforcement of the law is also critical; without it, confidence in the rule of law is undermined. The Victorian Bar is concerned that the enforcement response to Ms Buhler’s conduct is apparently at odds with other reported and more measured responses by authorities to organisers or promoters of similar protests planned or carried out in contravention of public health directives.
We have today written to the Minister for Police and Emergency Services, the Hon. Lisa Neville, to raise these matters of concern.
Elizabeth Gray on +61 401 561 554 or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org