Court finds ‘f— Fred Nile’ not offensive language at marriage equality rally

Christian Democratic Party leader Fred Nile. Photo: Brook Mitchell  
Nanjing Night Net

Seldom does a magistrate use the phrase “you f—ing beauty” in a judgment, or reflect on whether the word “f—” is part of a child’s vocabulary.

On Tuesday Sydney magistrate Geoffrey Bradd had cause to do both in dismissing charges against a group of protesters hauled before the Local Court for saying “f— Fred Nile” and calling opponents “f—ers” at a rally in support of same sex marriage.

In a decision touted as a win for free speech, Magistrate Bradd threw out offensive language charges against the group, saying the words were used “to dismiss the argument against marriage equality” rather than to cause offence.

April Holcombe was one of three protesters charged with using offensive language after the rally in Belmore Park in Haymarket in September last year.

“I was called 48 hours after the protest to be told that I had sworn, that this was on police footage, and that my $500 fine was in the mail,” said Ms Holcombe, LGBTI Officer for the National Union of Students.

The protest was organised by activist group Community Action Against Homophobia (CAAH) to counter an anti same-sex marriage march organised by Christian Democratic Party leader and upper house MP Fred Nile and Christian group Unity Australia.

Ms Holcombe said during the protest: “We need to make a stand against them and make sure us using bad language about these f—ers is nothing compared to the epidemic of suicides these people contribute to”.

Patrick Hildehand and Cat Rose, co-conveners of CAAH, were charged with saying “f— Fred Nile” and “bigots f— off” respectively.

Police issued them with penalty notices for offensive language, which were invalid under criminal procedure laws which prevent police from issuing such notices during “an apparently genuine demonstration or protest”.

The trio was subsequently charged with using offensive language – the maximum penalty for which is a $660 fine – and served with notices to appear in court.

The court heard Ms Rose told a police officer “f—” was “part of the common vernacular”, prompting him to respond it was “not part of children’s vernacular” and there were families at the park.

Magistrate Bradd said there was no evidence Ms Rose used the words “f— off” and dismissed the charges against Ms Holcombe and Mr Hildehand on the basis the words were not offensive in context.

He said whether the word “f—” is part of a child’s vernacular “depends on the words that a child listens to from others”.

The word was only offensive if it was “calculated to wound the feelings, arouse anger or resentment or disgust and outrage in the mind of a reasonable person”.

Phrases such as “you f—ing beauty” and “f—ing hell” were unlikely to be offensive, he said.

The protesters were represented by a phalanx of lawyers, including Sydney barristers Stephen Lawrence and Felicity Graham and solicitor Charles Stanford.

Sydney solicitor Christian Hearn, who appeared for Ms Rose, said offensive language laws had “for too long been used as a social control applied disproportionately against marginalised and vulnerable people”.

“The magistrate ruled that the language used by our clients was not unlawful and once again confirmed that a person does not commit a crime merely by using the word ‘f—‘,” he said.

“The police should remind themselves of that before subjecting peaceful protesters and other citizens to arrest and criminal prosecution for nothing more than speech.”

Ms Rose said: “We’ll keep protesting until we have our rights, and you can expect a few f-bombs along the way.”

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.