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A triumph for the freedom of peaceful assembly
The CFA considered these freedoms as being at the heart of
The judgment reaffirms that peaceful demonstrations, which only cause a minimum of obstruction, are considered as a reasonable use of a public place. This means that a demonstration by a small group of persons in a public place, even if it causes some obstruction, will not amount to the offence of obstruction of public places. An offence will only be committed if the obstruction is unreasonable. In deciding what is reasonable in the circumstances, the CFA held that it is necessary to ensure that any limits or bounds “must not be so narrowly defined as to devalue, or unduly impair the ability to exercise such a freedom.” This approach is conducive to supporting the freedom of peaceful assembly at public places.
The judgment has also endorsed the importance of the selection of a prominent place, from the perspective of the participants, as the site for a demonstration. A group of peaceful protestors, especially a small group, will have a very strong claim to select a public place closer to the target of their protest and occupy a more visible public place. If a demonstration is peaceful and causing a minimum of obstruction, which is usually the case for a small group of demonstrators, the police will have no strong reasons on public order and national security grounds to restrict the protestors to a place picked by the police themselves. As a demonstration by a small group of protestors is normally not very obstructive, which the law now accepts as a reasonable obstruction in the exercise of the rights of speech and assembly, it will be very difficult for the police to assert that the denial of the rights of other users of the public place as an excuse for confining the demonstrators to a place not of the protestors’ choice. Therefore the previous police practice of confining a group of protestors, however small, to “designated public activity areas” of the police officer’s choice will in the future be actively called into question by the protestors. To avoid abuse of power and to ensure that front line police officers do not adopt unlawful measures and that the basic rights of the protestors are protected, the police need to review their measures relating to “designated public activity areas.”
This judgment also highlights the judiciary's important role in ensuring the rule of law and protection of rights in
The judiciary is not operating in a vacuum. We should not expect the judiciary to be able to defend human rights on their own. It is equally important for