A KYOGLE mother and son have won a protracted challenge to what the NSW Supreme Court now deems an unlawful arrest, setting a statewide precedent expected to bring a change in police policy.
Gloria May Williams and her son, Robert Lee Anthony Williams, were found guilty in the Kyogle Local Court last year of hindering police when officers arrived at an indigenous dance ceremony to arrest Robert's younger brother, Joel Nathan Williams, on a 2009 shoplifting charge.
The Supreme Court upheld the Aboriginal Legal Service's argument that it was an illegal arrest under the Law Enforcement Act, which requires police to prove an arrest is necessary, and therefore its clients could not have been hindering police.
Aboriginal Legal Service lawyer Jeremy Styles described it as an important judgement that will not only be good for his client base, but the general public.
"We can't speak for the police, but we're hopeful the ruling stands as a clear statement that the use of arrest is a last resort and a clear statement that arrest should only be used in the most necessary of circumstances," he said.
"There are a lot of factors giving rise to the high incarceration rate (of Aboriginal people) and this is one part in the process - if you reduce the number of people being arrested you reduce the number of people going to the police station, which may have the effect of reducing the number of people being bail-refused by police which starts the whole cycle.
"The vast bulk of our matters in the criminal justice system being charged by police are fairly minor matters and many are matters that can be brought to court without actually putting someone under arrest. To be fair, police are pretty good at (things like) traffic matters, where they issue notices and get back out to do what they have to do, but problems do arise with other matters involving general duties police and things like larceny or minor assault-type offences.
"For your general, garden-variety, low-range offending we think court attendance notices should be used more and we hope this judgement makes that clear."
A happy Mrs Williams said yesterday her faith in the legal system had improved and they looked forward to getting on with their lives.
"This all started when police came and interfered when we were practising our law. Police hindered us, we didn't hinder them," she said.