Friday, 4 July 2008

Court challenge for WYD nuisance powers

The Council for Civil Liberties is preparing a court challenge against new fines for people who annoy or inconvenience pilgrims during Sydney's World Youth Day later this month.

The regulations empower police, firefighters and State Emergency Service (SES) volunteers to stop people who engage in conduct that causes annoyance or inconvenience to Catholic pilgrims during the week-long event.

People who do not comply could be arrested and face a fine of $5,500, but the SES says its volunteers do not want to enforce the rules.

Protest groups and civil libertarians fear the rules could lead to the confiscation of items such as placards and T-shirts bearing anti-World Youth Day slogans

The secretary of the New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties, Stephen Blanks, says the rules are absurd.

"They're counterproductive because they've produced the situation this week that now there are many groups who wish to use the Pope's visit as an occasion to protest against a wide variety of subjects," he said.

"That was not going to occur if the Government and the police had taken a sensible approach."

The council intends to bring the case to court next week.

Earlier today, SES director-general Philip McNamara said volunteers provided support at big events all the time without the extraordinary powers.

"Really, they're all about assisting the public to get to the right spot and doing that sort of thing, rather than having to be telling the public or directing or actually imposing fines on the public," he said.

"That's not what they are there for... It's all about for us making sure that World Youth Day participation for our volunteers is a very positive experience, where they have a good interaction with both the pilgrims and anybody else that's around.

"They just didn't need the powers that have been allocated."

The new World Youth Day rules cover 680 venues.


Youth Day laws 'undermine basic rights'
The New South Wales Bar Association says new regulations for World Youth Day undermine basic rights and are an affront to freedom of speech.

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