The Role of Legal Observers in the Community
Legal observers are trained volunteers who support the legal rights of activists. They give basic legal guidance and are independent witnesses of police behavior at protests.
Legal Observers are independent of the protest and do not participate as activists. They support protestors by:
- Dispersing bust cards and briefing activists about their rights.
- Keeping notes about the actions of the police on demonstrations, which may be later used to challenge the authorities on their conduct.
- Monitoring arrests, including collecting witnesses and helping to join the arrestee with support in the police station.
- GBC Legal observers could be identified on activities by their orange hi-viz vests that say, Legal Observer.
- Legal observers have no official legal status or privilege, but the police are often aware of the part, and legal observers may act as a deterrent to police wrongdoing.
Legal observers are not:
- Medics (GBC has individual medics on some substantial actions)
- Media spokespeople
- Stewards or authorities liaison: legal observers may occasionally speak to law enforcement to find out advice, but will not pass messages between police and activists.
Legal Finding is an exciting approach to playing an important role in almost any demonstration or protest. However, this endeavor also carries with it a great amount of obligation. Legal Observers are most often law students, lawyers, or other members of the legal community because these individuals are usually familiar with the laws and may note any violations in legal terms. Yet, anyone can be an effective legal observer with proper training.
Legal Observers are people who purposely position themselves close enough to demonstrations to be able to precisely see and report the activities of participants and also the law enforcement who interact with them. Just the presence of an explicitly identified Legal Observer can deter authorities from violating the rights of protesters. Legal Observers shouldn’t act as a portion of the demonstration, but should carefully record the activities of the police with the aim of later using that information as objective accounts of the events. A Legal Observer will essentially be the official eyes and ears of protesters, documenting every detail in a thorough and professional fashion. Usually, they fill out this official form (LO overview) for any episode so that all the info is uniform and organized.
A Couple of Tricks
Stuff: A Legal Observer should carry a pen and paper or the essential forms for writing their observations, a camera or recording device for documenting situations, and an article that clearly identifies you as a Legal Observer (hat, t-shirt). An especially powerful Legal Observer will even become acquainted with the place in order to reference street names and directions. Noting the locations of restrooms or where medical care and other crucial provisions might be obtained is also important. Know how exactly to estimate distances and have the ability to recognize key players of the protest for communications purposes.
The Legality of Recording Cops: Videotaping authorities is one of the very most powerful tools for protecting protesters. While police may assert that you must have the authorization to videotape them, the Oregon District Court suggests that videotaping police at a demonstration is protected under the First Amendment because protests are matters of public interest.
Legal Observer Team
Legal or human rights observers behave as an independent third party, monitoring authorities behavior to be able to keep police answerable for their actions. Legal observers can write incident reports describing authorities violence and misbehavior and compile reports following the event. As observers, they truly are more removed and so better able to objectively and independently describe occasions.
It truly is critical that a Legal Observer Team has discussed and is clear about their role and mandate, particularly about whether their job would be to monitor the conductor police, of protesters of both or of others. A political philosophy to legal support will normally insist that the role of Legal Observers is always to track the behavior of the authorities and that their function is not to police or to track protester behavior in any way.
It is arguably inappropriate for Legal Observer Teams who are committed to working in political support and solidarity with protesters to surveil and quasi-police the activities of protestors. The authorities along with the apparatus of the state dedicate lots of resources to the profiling, surveillance, and criminalisation of individuals and movements that work towards progressive social change. Legal Observer Teams should aim to widen the political space to take protest action; by tracking violence and harassment by police and other authorities and acting in a way that better enables movements to take the actions they want to take (whether those activities are inside or beyond the law).
Legal Observers are needed to provide handouts on legal information, provide protesters with phone numbers for legal support, track arrests and policing episodes and collate information for ongoing legal support and or arrested solidarity.
Legal Observers should also encourage protest participants to write an appropriate legal support telephone number (this may be a mobile number activated by the Legal Support team for this specific demonstration or the quantity of an encouraging criminal law firm or community legal center). Even participants who usually do not intend to get arrested or feel they won’t get detained needs to be encouraged to do this. Firstly, authorities answers could be unpredictable and arbitrary and it is not uncommon for individuals who had no intention of being arrested (even bystanders who were not part of the protest) to be detained. Secondly, if some participants hold the number written on their hand and others don’t it may cause authorities attention to be attracted to individuals with the number on their hand, on the premise that they intend to engage in more militant or confrontational approaches.
Legal Observers are critical to producing a sense of safety, to let people to make informed decisions about their actions and to detect police strategies and boost accountability.
It’s useful for Legal Observers to identify themselves as such by wearing signs or distinguishing clothes such as fleuro security vests with Legal Observer stenciled on the back. Make certain each Legal Observer comes with a clipboard, important arrest tracking sheets, blank paper, and pens.
Be sure you have debriefing organized – the role can be quite draining, as Legal Observer may be witnesses to police violence, but the job requires them to keep doing. In such situations organizing a group debriefs to accept how shocking and upsetting a few of the things which were witnessed and detected may have been.
NLG Legal Observer Program
The National Lawyers Guild Legal Observer program was established in 1968 in New York City in response to protests at Columbia University and citywide antiwar and civil rights demonstrations. That same year, Guild students organized for the defense of individuals swept up in mass arrests at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.
The Legal Observer program is part of an extensive system of legal support by their Mass Defense Committee designed to enable individuals to express their political views as fully as possible without unconstitutional disruption or interference by the authorities and with the fewest possible outcomes from the criminal justice system. In addition to Legal Observers, Guild attorneys generally provide legal defense for protesters that are arrested and bring civil litigation if needed. Legal Observers are generally, but not entirely, law students, legal workers, and attorneys who may or might not be licensed locally. Legal Observers are trained and directed by Guild lawyers, who often have created solicitor-client relationships with activist organizations, or are in litigation challenging police approaches at mass assemblies. The existence of Legal Observers may serve as a deterrent to unconstitutional behavior by law enforcement during a demonstration. To request Legal Observers for an upcoming occasion.
Get Trained as a Legal Observer
A Know Your Rights Training for Trainers will be held by the Midnight Special Law Collective. The training teaches folks how exactly to give the “Know Your Rights” training. They show how to use brainstorms, role plays and facilitated discussion to teach people their rights and how the cops deceive you out of them. Additionally, it instructs some of the principles of giving training, including presentation skills, facilitation techniques, and the way to act like a cop.
Which are the Key Parts of a Legal Observer
To monitor the policing of the demonstration, notably the use by authorities of controversial strategies like stop and search and kettling.
To behave as a hindrance to police misbehavior. Legal observers are very noticeable in hi-visibility bibs, and remind individual police officers that their activities are being monitored.
To reassure and advise protesters of their fundamental legal rights. Bust cards give info on basic protest rights and comprise the amount of a trusted lawyer about them to call if they may be detained.
To track arrests. As a legal observer, your function would be to record anything you witness during an arrest or obtain statements from other witnesses.
To record assaults on protesters by police. Legal observers should record assaults in as much detail as possible and should try to acquire statements from any witnesses.