Lawyers to watch police at G20 protests

Lawyers will film the actions of police during G20 protests, in a tradition spawned during Queensland’s corrupt Bjelke-Petersen era.

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Australian Council for Civil Liberties president Terry O’Gorman says about 100 lawyers have volunteered to act as independent observers, looking out for any incidents of officer brutality or heavy handedness.

“There’s 100 or so lawyers rostered to act as legal observers to try to get independent evidence of how police in demonstration situations are carrying out their powers,” Mr O’Gorman told AAP on Thursday.

He said police were aware of the plan, and the volunteer lawyers would be equipped with head-mounted cameras to gather evidence for complaints or evidence for court.

“Their role is to photograph and monitor. They’ve agreed in a meeting with police not to give advice on the street and not to intervene in any arrests.”

Mr O’Gorman said the initiative had a long tradition in Queensland, dating back to the controversial all-white Springboks controversial Australian tour in 1971.

Fearing an outbreak of anti-apartheid protests, and a repeat of public violence seen in other Australian cities, then Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen famously declared a month-long state of emergency and told the police union officers would not be penalised for any action they took to suppress demonstrators.

Lawyers were on the ground as observers when protests went ahead despite the decree.

They acted in the same capacity again in 1977 after the Bjelke-Petersen government effective banned street marches, following a number of ugly clashes between protesters and police, notably at a rally of 1000 university students the previous year.

The then-premier told reporters he was tired of radical groups believing they could take over the streets, and famously told protest groups: “Don’t bother applying for a march permit. You won’t get one.”

Mr O’Gorman said the presence of independent observers at G20 protests was a good thing, and hoped there wouldn’t be any repeat of the mass arrests that occurred during the G20 in Toronto in 2010, when 1100 people were arrested in a single afternoon.

“It should be remembered that only 44 of those 1100 were convicted,” he told AAP.