Today we argued our appeal in the High Court against an environmental protestor’s conviction for ‘destroy or damage property’ under s 195 of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW). We are appealing lower court decisions that the protestor ‘damaged’ a coal ship loader by attaching himself to it in protest and rendering it inoperable for a period. The ship loader ceased to operate for safety reasons while the protestor was attached.
The High Court had previously granted the matter special leave to be considered in their appellate jurisdiction. Today, in argument, the Court was asked to consider whether an object or machine can be ‘damaged’ through the protestor’s presence alone.
The charge of ‘destroy or damage property’ carries a maximum penalty of 5 years’ imprisonment. The charge is common in New South Wales and, whilst usually associated with graffiti and vehicle damage, is extending to incidents where police and protestors collide. In this decision, the High Court may narrow the interpretation of the offence providing some protection to people exercising their right to protest.