Murdoch law students defend teenage protestors

May 15, 2017

Members of the Murdoch team who worked with the teenage Roe 8 protesters (L-R Ferhan Siddiqi, Anna Copeland, Shauna O'Neill and Lisa van Toor)

Members of the Murdoch team who worked with the teenage Roe 8 protestors (L-R Ferhan Siddiqi, Anna Copeland, Shauna O'Neill and Lisa van Toor)

Law students at Murdoch University have gained invaluable experience and supported a community cause by providing legal representation to teenage children charged for protesting against a major transport development.

Six students from Murdoch’s Clinical Legal Programs negotiated with prosecutors and supported eight children aged 14 to 17 and their families at the Children’s Court after they were charged over the recent Roe 8 protests.

In some cases, the Murdoch team helped to get charges such as obstruction and trespass dropped for their clients. Some of those charged were put on good behaviour bonds, including their parents. And some were dismissed with no further action. In Children’s Court, unless the charges are very serious, those charged will not end up with a criminal record.

The protests against Roe 8 took place between December and March, as government contractors began clearing land in Beeliar Regional Park, situated south of Murdoch University’s Perth Campus.

Dozens were arrested and police were accused of using excessive force when moving or restraining activists.

These complaints were explored in a recent report on police conduct at the protests.

The road was cancelled by the new Labor state government in March when they took power.

The students were led by Anna Copeland, Director of Clinical Legal Programs at Murdoch's School of Law. Clinical Legal Programs is run in collaboration with SCALES Community Legal Centre.

Ms Copeland said she became involved after a call out for legal assistance was issued by activist groups fighting Roe 8 before the protests ramped up.

“Because of my experience in youth law, I was sent many of the under 18 protestors who were arrested and charged,” she said.

“It has been a very interesting experience for myself and the undergraduate and postgraduate students involved.

“Most of the students were very supportive of the children and could not believe the police went ahead with prosecutions.

“However, not all of our students agreed. One in particular expressed concern that ‘the teenagers and some of the parents were not taking the charges seriously enough and they should not have been proud of the criminal behaviour’.

“This challenge gave us an opportunity to talk to the students about the democratic right to protest peacefully, the freedom to assemble and the freedom to express political dissent.”

Ms Copeland said the teenagers and their families had been very grateful for the students’ assistance, sending personal messages of thanks.

“It was clear that many of them were fascinated that Murdoch students were helping them. These are already engaged teenagers, so it was heartening to see their experience with our students opening their eyes to what is possible by coming to university.”

Post graduate student Lisa van Toor said the experience was more than just another case.

“Personally speaking, it was really great to be supporting these teenagers who were involved in this huge community protest and standing up for what they believed,” she said.

The testimony collected by the students was added to the report on the policing of the Roe 8 protests.

All the latest news from Murdoch University can be read here.

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