News & Views

Statement of Concern: Unnecessary use of handcuffs 

Melbourne Activist Legal Support expresses concern regarding the use of handcuffs on non-resisting activists at an Extinction Rebellion protest on 2 April 2022.

Melbourne Activist Legal Support (MALS) fielded a team of four (4) Legal Observers at the Extinction Rebellion protest event that took place in front of the Mobil Yarraville Terminal Francis Street gates at the intersection of Francis Street and Docklands Highway, Yarraville on Saturday 2nd April 2022 The protest was organised by the Victorian chapter of the international climate movement, Extinction Rebellion. Legal Observers were on site from 7:30am until 9:40am, monitoring and recording police conduct and interactions with protesters. The Victoria Police Search and Rescue unit arrived at approximately 8:45am to remove the protesters from the top of the tanker. Once they were off the tanker, police escorted each protester one at a time to a police van which was parked opposite the tanker on the northbound side of Docklands Highway. Police confirmed the protesters’ identification and conducted searches.

All three protesters cooperated with police during the arrest process: they answered all questions, informed police if they were holding anything in their pockets or on their person, complied with all directions, and did not resist arrest in any way. Despite this, the last two protesters removed from the tanker were handcuffed after they had cooperated with police questioning and before they were placed in the police van.

Handcuffs as a use of force

Handcuffs and other restraints are a use of force option available to police under certain circumstances. (Office of Police Integrity 2009:59).  A police member  is not entitled to use handcuffs on a person merely because an arrest has been made and their use should not be considered or formulated as ‘standard practice’. The use of handcuffs can be an unlawful use of force if they are used when they are not necessary.As the use of handcuffs can cause injuries to the arm or shoulder, ligament damage, severe bruising, and circulatory damage (MALS 2019) and can pose risks when people are transported in the back of vehicles.

The use of handcuff and zip ties by police is governed by law and the Victorian Police Manual, which states: ‘A person arrested or taken into custody should be handcuffed if the member reasonably believes it to be necessary in the circumstances.’ (Victoria Police Manual Instructions 101-3 9.1 in Office of Police Integrity 2009:75).

The manual also deems handcuffing a use of force:

“Police can use force where on reasonable grounds police think it is necessary to use force to prevent a serious offence, to lawfully arrest someone suspected of committing an offence or to prevent suicide. The force must be proportionate (s 462A and s463B of the Crimes Act).” (Human Rights Law Centre 2011:7)

Any use of force must be reasonable, necessary, and proportionate to the threat faced and in accordance with legal requirements found in legislation, the common law, and the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 (Vic). In this case, MALS believes the use of handcuffs on the Extinction Rebellion protesters arrested was an unreasonable, unnecessary and disproportionate use of force.  None of the protesters posed any threat to their own or others’ safety at the time they were handcuffed. Further, the fact that only two of the three protesters arrested were handcuffed, not all of them, indicates an inconsistent approach to the policing of protesters.

Increasing normalisation of handcuffs

Lawyers and civil liberty and human rights organisations have noted similar incidents of the unnecessary handcuffing of protesters by Victoria Police including when anti-lockdown protester Zoe Buhler was handcuffed by police while pregnant. MALS released a Statement of Concern regarding the policing of Extinction Rebellion protesters in September 2019 including the use of handcuffs on protesters. Melbourne Activist Legal Support is concerned about the increasing normalisation of the use of handcuffs on protesters and other people subject to arrest.    


MALS makes the following recommendations:

  1. That the Victoria Police immediately cease characterising the use of handcuffs as ‘standard procedure’ during arrests.
  1. That Victoria Police update the Use of Force and the Operational Safety and Tactics Training (OSTT) VPMG and associated OST training to specifically prohibit the use of handcuffs or other restraints in situations when a person subject to arrest is non-resisting, non-threatening and ensure that they are not used in protest situations when a person is ‘passively resisting’ or ‘going limp’ and in circumstances where the person is being carried.

This Statement of Concern is a public document and is provided to media, Victoria Police Professional Standards Command (PSC), Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC), the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission (VEOHRC), Government ministers, Members of Parliament and other agencies upon request.

For inquiries regarding this statement please contact:

Melbourne Activist Legal Support (MALS)

is an independent volunteer group of lawyers, human rights advocates, law students and para-legals. MALS trains and fields Legal Observer Teams at protest events, provides training and advice to activist groups on legal support structures, and develops and distributes legal resources for social movements. MALS works in conjunction with law firms, community legal centres, and a range of local, national, and international human rights agencies. We stand up for civil and political rights.

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