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Victoria Police hit with capsicum spray class action

A class action has been filed in the Supreme Court against the Victorian state government and Victoria Police over the use of capsicum spray on protesters. 

user iconLauren Croft 02 September 2022 Big Law
Victoria Police hit with capsicum spray class action
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Law firm Phi Finney McDonald and the Police Accountability Project at Inner Melbourne Community Legal filed the class action overnight, regarding Victoria Police’s use of capsicum spray and excessive force against protesters at the International Mining and Resources Conference (IMARC) in Melbourne in October 2019.

During the conference, protesters were sprayed with capsicum spray by the police; and the claim alleges that the use of capsicum spray on protestors is unlawful when used as a coercive tool, or where there is no immediate or proportionate threat to police officers or the public.

According to the firm, the class action aims to protect the right to protest without fear of excessively heavy-handed police tactics and for the court’s opinion on the circumstances in which police are authorised to use capsicum spray. 

 
 

This news follows the go-ahead from the Supreme Court last week for a class action against the Victorian government in relation to the failed hotel quarantine in the state, leading to increased lockdowns in 2020. The Victoria Supreme Court ruled that the class action will proceed against the Victorian government, key ministers, and bureaucrats — who are accused of mismanaging the state’s hotel quarantine program, which forced businesses into a second COVID-19 lockdown.

Lead plaintiff and journalist Jordan Brown said the capsicum spray class action is needed to achieve justice for people who were exercising their right to protest and to hold police accountable for their actions and decisions.

“I’ve been documenting protests for two decades, and see that police continue to systematically suppress basic civil and political rights throughout Australia in increasing measure,” he said. 

“This class action provides a pathway towards some meaningful change in Victoria.”

Inner Melbourne Community Legal principal solicitor Gregor Husper said he hopes the case will put a much-needed spotlight on the expansion of police powers.

“We’re concerned about the rising militarisation of Victoria Police and the protection of protest rights under Victoria’s human rights laws. The rights for peaceful assembly and freedom to demonstrate are integral to a functioning democratic society,” he said. 

“Capsicum spray can cause significant injuries and potentially permanent disabilities. Victoria Police’s own manual states that capsicum spray should only be used in limited circumstances including situations of violence or serious physical confrontation.”

Olivia McMillan, special counsel at Phi Finney McDonald leading the case, said the class action is the first of its kind.

“We’re proud to be representing Mr Brown and all affected protesters in this class action. This is the first ever class action regarding capsicum spray that has been run in Australia, and could have a significant impact on the future of police response to protests in Victoria,” she said.

“There is ample footage of the 2019 IMARC protestors being indiscriminately sprayed with capsicum spray. Police should be held accountable for their actions given the position of trust and power they hold within our community.”