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 also known as Human Rights Observers, and are specially trained to document, gather evidence and report on any human rights concerns.
Legal observers take notes of police operational tactics, document any police violence or misconduct and monitor any infringements of human rights.
Legal observers also provide on-site information to activists and the general public about police powers and civil & political rights.
Melbourne Activist Legal Support (MALS) regularly fields Legal Observers to monitor human rights at a wide range of protests, actions, and rallies on environmental and social justice issues.
Legal observers are recognised as Human Rights Defenders by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and as such fall under the protection of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.
Australian Police services 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).
The UNHRC describes monitoring as necessary for the exercise of the right to peaceful assembly, emphasising the duties of law enforcement officials to “[protect] journalists, monitors and observers”. (UNHRC, 2020. General Comment No. 37)
Legal (or third-party) Observer teams have been used for many decades in places like Northern Ireland and throughout the world.
Legal Observer Teams provide independent and impartial scrutiny at protests and political events. The physical presence of legal observers strengthens existing police accountability mechanisms and the application of civil or human rights mechanisms.
Most people are alienated from the law, obscure legal language, and the decisions that are made in courts and parliaments. At the same time, protesters are disproportionately targeted by the state and police authorities and disproportionately entangled in the law and criminal justice system.
By assisting protesters to give statements and making complaints against or take civil action against police, legal observers help people to use the law to assert their rights and deter further abuses.
INVITING A MALS LEGAL OBSERVER TEAM TO YOUR EVENT
MALS can field a Legal Observer Team upon invitation and according to our volunteer capacity.
To Invite MALS to your event email us with some basic details at [email protected] or Contact Us
MALS keeps all information from activist groups confidential.
We work across movements and with diverse 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 have experienced or are resisting structural and systemic oppression or are more likely to be targeted by police or state repression.
For more see:
What is this thing called Legal Observing?
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 social change activists. Although this training is a requirement for being a Legal Observer with MALS in the future, it is also a great opportunity to get to know the basics of Legal Observing and use these skills in your own organisation.