EH v Queensland Police Service; GS v Queensland Police Service
Jurisdiction: Queensland District Court
Side A: Two climate protesters (EH and GS) (Individual)
Side B: Queensland Police Service (Government)
Whether climate protesters were unlawfully convicted for protesting coal mine.
On August 28, 2020, the Queensland District Court overturned the convictions of two climate protesters for using "locking" devices to obstruct a railway to a coal mine, concluding that the convictions and sentences were overly harsh under the circumstances.
During the 2019-2020 bushfires in Australia, the two defendants traveled to Queensland to protest the proposed expansion of coal mines in the Bowen basin. The protesters blocked a railway line that provides access to a coal loading facility by using tubular steel attachment devices to "lock" themselves to a 44 gallon drum filled with concrete, creating a device known as a "dragon's den." The devices can only be released voluntarily, or if someone else cuts the device, and cutting the device risks injury to the protesters. The defendants were charged with obstructing a railway; trespassing on a railway; using a dangerous attachment device to interfere with transport infrastructure; and contravening a direction or requirement. The dangerous attachment device offense was a new offense created by 2019 legislation that prohibits the use of devices such as "dragon dens," which was introduced in response to protests against coal mining and regarding climate change. The Acting Magistrate convicted and sentenced the defendants to three months imprisonment for that offense. Convictions were not recorded for the other offenses.
On appeal, the district court concluded that the device the protesters used fell within the definition of a "dragon's den," but that the gravity of the offense was minimal given the lack of evidence that any loss was suffered, that members of the public were burdened, or that there was violence or the threat of violence. The court further explained that the defendants "have the right to express their views and to protest against an activity to which they object subject only to such restrictions as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society for (amongst other legitimate aims) the prevention of disorder or crime or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others," and that "the motive for the commission of the offen[s]e will often be relevant to the moral culpability of the offender, the weight to given to personal deterrence and it may affect the weight to be given to general deterrence." The court accordingly allowed the appeal, vacated the convictions and resentenced the defendants to a single fine of $1000.