What is a legal observer?
Put simply, a legal observer is just someone who observes the policing of a demonstration. A legal observer’s role is to take careful note of the way the demonstration is being policed, and to give out basic information to demonstrators about legal rights to protest. If there are arrests, or if force is used by the police, legal observers can collect witness statements that may help protesters establish the facts in court.
Legal observers are clearly identified by their legal observer bibs and are not activists. They should not to participate actively in the protest by holding banners, chanting, wearing stickers etc. This does not mean a legal observer is neutral – they are there to support protesters and only need to gather evidence which will help them, not the police.
Legal observers have no special legal status: they are usually respected by the police, but rarely get special treatment. Legal observers have to tread a difficult line between being near enough to an incident to observe what is taking place, but not so near as to get arrested for obstructing the police. They are not immune from arrest, but unless they are deliberately getting in the way it is rare for legal observers to be arrested.
Legal observers are not lawyers, police negotiators or spokespeople for the protesters. They should not provide legal advice beyond what is provided in the bust cards, nor attempt to negotiate with the police, or speak on behalf of the protesters to journalists or police. Neither should they tell protesters what they should or shouldn’t do. A legal oberver’s role is to observe!
Legal observer training is offered by the Green & Black Cross legal team. If you’d like to be added to their announce list for notification of upcoming training, email GBClegal[at]riseup.net or visit their Facebook page.
Netpol is in the process of producing a number of guides and training resources for legal observers. The guidance is produced by members of the Network who have many years of experience of legal observing, of training legal observing and of co-ordinating legal support teams:
Practical guides for legal observing, and co-ordinating legal observer teams
Fact sheets – all those little areas of policing practice legal observers should know about:
Stop and Search
Use of force
Arrest and Court – information for legal observers on the arrest and court process.
Custody procedure – what happens at the police station
Bail and Police Bail