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Statement from the Dean in relation to policing incident on campus

15 October 2020
Concern for our staff and students

Professor Simon Bronitt, Head of School and Dean of Sydney Law School has released a statement in response to a recent police incident 

Like many students and staff, I was shocked by the events that occurred on campus yesterday and have since been reported widely in the press overnight and today.

I spoke with Professor Simon Rice yesterday after the incident, who reported that was he not seriously injured following some forceful handling by officers at the Parramatta Rd Exit.

The arrest, force, detention and issuing of the infringement notice hardly settles the matter. I am confident that Professor Rice and the students affected will not lack for support from colleagues within the School, SULS and the wider legal/social justice community. We will #StandwithSimon, as we #StandwithWoj.

But these ‘fines’, which may be contested, will take many months to reach the courts. I welcome the Vice-Chancellor’s announcement that the University would be calling for an urgent discussion with NSW Police, which shamefully has ignored repeated requests to discuss the matter with the University.

There are clearly many layers to the incident. Foremost, my immediate concern is for the welfare of our staff and students who are, or may be in the future, on the receiving end of a ‘hard’ style of public order policing in which demonstrators are funnelled and contained (some may say ‘kettled’), and then subjected to strategic arrests and interventions. From past experience, these controversial policing practices only serve to escalate tensions and violence in the management of otherwise peaceful demonstrations. To restrain any planned demonstrations within a lawful framework, it must be incumbent on the NSW Police or indeed the Attorney General to seek an injunction to prevent them proceeding – it is before the courts where the legal validity and proportionality of the public health constraints and reasonableness of planned police responses can be assessed.  

Of course, my comments should not be viewed as stepping back from the University’s continued support for the valid intent behind the PHO, which serves to keep staff and students on campus COVID-safe. That said, how these laws are operationalised by the police on campus, day-to-day, is a matter on which the University community has a right to be consulted. That is standard of community policing, based upon respect for human rights, which regrettably was not on display yesterday.

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