Legal Observer Teams
Legal Observer Teams are groups of trained volunteers who observe police and private security officers during protests, policing operations, or community events.
Legal observers are specially trained to document, gather evidence, and report on any human rights abuses, or civil or political rights concerns. They also take note of police operational tactics, and document any police violence or misconduct.
Legal observers may also provide on-site information to activists and the general public about police powers, and civil and political rights generally.
Melbourne Activist Legal Support (MALS) regularly fields Legal Observer Teams at a wide range of actions on environmental and social justice issues. You can request MALS attend your event below.
Legal observers are recognised as Human Rights Defenders by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). Australian Police forces have an obligation to permit legal observers to fulfil their role unhindered and without obstruction. The practice of independent scrutiny of police powers is also recognised by the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC), emphasising the duties of law enforcement officials to protect “journalists, monitors and observers.”
Legal observers, and other third-party monitors, have been used for many decades, and throughout the world, in places such as Northern Ireland, Seattle, Prague, Quebec, Washington, London, Melbourne and Sydney.
Legal Observer Teams provide independent and impartial scrutiny at protests and political events. The physical presence of independent observers strengthens existing police accountability mechanisms, and the application of civil or human rights protections.
Most people are alienated from the law, its obscure language, and the decisions that are made in courts and parliaments. At the same time, protesters are disproportionately targeted by the state and the police, and are often entangled in the law and criminal justice system in complex ways.
By assisting protesters to give statements, or making complaints against the police, or take civil action against the state, legal observers help people to use the law to assert their rights, and deter further abuses.
If you’re interested in learning more, please see our What is this thing called Legal Observing? post.
Become a Legal Observer
MALS runs regular Legal Observer Training workshops each year. These workshops are aimed at people who are interested in learning the basics of legal observing, how it works, what it can be used for, and why its important for activists.
This training is a requirement for being a legal observer with MALS in the future, but it's also a great opportunity to get to know the basics of legal observing and use these skills in your own organisation.
MALS can field Legal Observer Teams upon invitation, and according to our volunteer capacity. We work across diverse movements, campaigns, and protest events, and we often need to prioritise our resources and capacity. When we need to choose, we tend to focus on protecting the political space of groups that are experiencing or resisting structural or systemic oppression, or are more likely to be targeted by police or state repression.
To invite MALS to your event, please provide us with some basic information, so we can get in touch. Don’t worry if you don’t have answers to every question below right now, you can give general answers for the moment, and more information later.