A class action has been filed against the Victorian State Government regarding Victoria Police’s use of capsicum spray and excessive force against protesters at the International Mining and Resources Conference (IMARC) in Melbourne in October 2019.

The case, which was filed overnight at the Supreme Court of Victoria by class action law firm Phi Finney McDonald and the Police Accountability Project at Inner Melbourne Community Legal, is centred around an incident where protestors were sprayed with capsicum spray by police.

The claim alleges that the use of capsicum spray on protestors is unlawful when used as a coercive tool, or where there is no immediate or proportionate threat to police officers or the public.

The class action aims to protect the right to protest without fear of excessively heavy-handed police tactics, and to obtain the Court’s view on the circumstances in which police are authorised to use capsicum spray.

Lead plaintiff and journalist Jordan Brown says the class action is needed to achieve justice for people who were exercising their right to protest, and to hold police accountable for their actions and decisions.

“I’ve been documenting protests for two decades, and see that police continue to systematically suppress basic civil and political rights throughout Australia in increasing measure. This class action provides a pathway towards some meaningful change in Victoria,” he said.

Gregor Husper, Inner Melbourne Community Legal’s Principal Solicitor, hopes the case will put a much-needed spotlight on the expansion of police powers.

“We’re concerned about the rising militarisation of Victoria Police and the protection of protest rights under Victoria’s human rights laws. The rights for peaceful assembly and freedom to demonstrate are integral to a functioning democratic society.”

“Capsicum spray can cause significant injuries and potentially permanent disabilities. Victoria Police’s own manual states that capsicum spray should only be used in limited circumstances including situations of violence or serious physical confrontation,” he said.

Olivia McMillan, Special Counsel at Phi Finney McDonald leading the case, says the class action is the first of its kind.

“We’re proud to be representing Mr Brown and all affected protesters in this class action. This is the first ever class action regarding capsicum spray that has been run in Australia, and could have a significant impact on the future of police response to protests in Victoria.”

“There is ample footage of the 2019 IMARC protestors being indiscriminately sprayed with capsicum spray. Police should be held accountable for their actions given the position of trust and power they hold within our community,” she said.

Members of the public who attended the 2019 IMARC protest may be eligible to register for the class action. Information on the class action and how to register is available at www.phifinneymcdonald.com/imarc, or by emailing classactions@phifinneymcdonald.com.