Many court cases become famous or historic because of the controversy that surrounds them. While many cases follow existing laws there are some that interpret the law in a new and different way, setting new precedents. In 2017 the case of Brown v Tasmania was significant for a number of reasons, including the continuation of environmental protests, the validity of legislation in other areas, and the use of proportionality as a test of constitutional validity.
Environmental activists, Robert Brown and Jessica Hoyt challenged the constitutionality of several provisions in the Workplaces (Protection from Protesters) Act 2014 before the High Court of Australia. Robert Brown is a former senator and founder of Australian Greens which is an environmental movement and political party and had been participating in pubic demonstrations for decades. Jessica Hoyt, a native of an area in Tasmania founded a community group to protest the forest operations that had been sculpted by Forestry Tasmania.
The two argued that the Act often referred to as the “Protesters Act” infringed on the implied freedom of communication in the Australian Consitution. Brown had been filming the operations taking place to raise awareness about the impact of logging in the forest. When two police officers instructed Brown to leave the forest premises he was arrested. After failing to leave the forest Hoyt was also arrested, however, charges against them were dismissed.
In their case, Brown and Hoyt challenged sections 6, 7, 8, 11, 13, and part 4 of the Protesters Act. Those provisions had established prohibitions to presters on business premises or forestry land. According to the two plaintiffs the law prevented any sort of social, political, environmental, or economic protest which put a burden on the freedom of political communication. Tasmania’s stance was that while the Protesters Act may have placed a small burden on that freedom it did not apply to the facts of that specific case.
Furthermore, the state maintained that the Act’s sole purpose was to stop any type of obstruction of lawful business activity. However, the sections of the Protesters Act that were being impugned were found to be contrary to Australia’s Constitution and were thus invalid. The majority of the Court decided that there was an undue burden on freedom of political communication due to the ambiguity of the law which granted police excessive powers, making the law go further than was necessary.
Once the justices decided that the Protesters Act operated outside of it’s required purpose they also declared that other methods of communication, outside of protesting, are often less effective. Finally, it was determined that a number of sections were invalid in the Workplaces (Protection of Protesters) Act 2014. The ruling made it possible for continued public protest with respect to forestry land in relation to business access.