Peaceful Assembly Act – your rights

The Peaceful Assembly Act 1992 (Qld) (the PAA) gives people the right to hold peaceful public assemblies in Queensland. The PAA is only 19 pages long and it is important that you read this in conjunction with this factsheet.

Objects of the PAA and the right of public assembly

The objects of the PAA are set out in section 2 and include, among other things, to recognise the right of peaceful assembly and to ensure, so far as it is appropriate to do so, that persons may exercise the right to participate in public assemblies.

The right of peaceful public assembly is set out in section 5. This right is subject only to such restrictions as are “necessary and reasonable” in the interest of:

    • public safety;
    • public order; or
    • the protection of others’ rights and freedoms. This includes:
      • rights of members of the public to enjoy the natural environment; and
      • the rights of persons to carry on business.

What is public assembly?

Public assembly is defined as an assembly held in a public place, whether or not it is held at a particular place or moving.

A public place includes a road, a place open to or used by the public as of right, or a place that is for the time being open or used by the public, even if it is not ordinarily open to the public or is only open on payment of money. (section 4).

Can I be arrested for taking part in a public assembly?

The PAA overrides any other law (either under statute or common law) relating to:

    • the right of peaceful assembly;
    • the movement of traffic or pedestrians;
    • loitering;
    • the use or obstruction of a public place; or
    • the payment of a fee, charge or other amount for a licence, permit or other authorisation relating to a public assembly. (section 3)

Therefore, you cannot be prosecuted, for example, for “obstructing a public place” under the Traffic Act, provided the public assembly is:

    • authorised;
    • peaceful; and
    • held substantially in accordance with any conditions.

However, the PAA does not provide a defence against a common law action of trespass or other laws relating to pubic order. Laws relating to offensive, indecent or obscene behaviour, public drunkenness, vagrancy, breaches of peace, riot, trespass, and damage to property still apply under the Summary Offences Act and the Criminal Code.

Authorisation of a public assembly

For a public assembly to be authorised,

    • (a) a notice of intention to hold the assembly must have been given to the relevant authority; and
    • (b) the assembly is taken to have been approved. (section 7)

(a) Organiser to give an assembly notice

To apply for approval, the organisers must first give a notice of intention to hold the assembly (assembly notice) to:

The Commissioner of the Police Service; AND If the assembly is to be held in or pass through a park, reserve, pedestrian mall, square or other public space – any local authority having jurisdiction in relation to the place(section 8(1)).

The notice may be left at or sent to the appropriate police office and, where appropriate, the office of the clerk of the local authority. (section 8(2))

The requirements of an assembly notice are set out in section 9. A notice must be in writing, addressed to the Commissioner or the relevant local authority, as appropriate, and signed by the organiser.

The assembly notice must contain all of the following information:

    • the name of the organiser of the assembly;
    • an address for service of notices on the organiser;
    • the name and address of the person giving the notice;
    • the day, time and place of the proposed assembly;
    • starting and finishing times of the assembly;
    • the expected number of participants;
    • the purpose of the assembly; and
    • a description of any sound amplifying equipment to be used during the assembly.

If the assembly is a procession, then the assembly notice must also state:

the proposed route; and
any places the procession will stop and how long it will remain there.

(b) Assembly is taken to have been approved

An assembly may be approved under section 10 as follows:

(1) When a notice of permission has been given to the organiser of the assembly.

This notice of permission must be in writing and is given by:

    • The Police Commissioner, stating that he/she does not oppose the holding of the assembly; AND
    • If the assembly notice was given to a local authority – the local authority, stating that it does not oppose the holding of the assembly; AND
    • If the place of assembly is private property and is only for the time being a public place – the owner or occupier of the place consenting to the holding of the assembly.

(2) If the assembly notice was given 5 business days or more before the assembly, then the assembly is approved if a Magistrates Court has not made an order refusing to authorise the holding of the assembly.

(3) If the assembly notice was given less than 5 business days before the assembly, then the assembly is approved if the Magistrates Court has made an order authorising the assembly.

The organiser must make an application for approval to the Magistrates Court under section 14. The application must be in the Magistrates Court District in which the public assembly is proposed to be held. The organiser cannot make an application if he/she obtains notice of permission from the relevant authority or has not first engaged in a concluded mediation process. (section 15)

The Magistrates Court can authorise the assembly or authorise the assembly with conditions.

Conditions on approval

A notice of permission given by the Police Commissioner and the local authority may be subject to conditions. (Section 11) A condition must relate to:

    • public safety;
    • public order;
    • the protection of rights (including their right to carry on business) and freedoms of others;
    • payment of clean up costs after the assembly;
    • any environmental or cultural sensitivity of the place of assembly; or
    • any resource management issues relating to the place of assembly.

The organisers must agree in writing to the conditions (section 11(2)(b)).

Before imposing conditions the Commissioner or local authority must have consulted with or attempted to consult with any persons or group with a significant interest in the place of assembly (interested persons). This may include, for example, people who have businesses in the area or other groups who use the area. They may hold public consultations in the area before finalising any conditions.

When considering whether to give permission, the Commissioner is likely to have considered:

    • the timing and location of the assembly (for example, permission will probably not be given for the use of roads during peak traffic times); and
    • potential threats to public safety or to public order.

Conditions could include:

    • participants march in tight formation;
    • any placards carried be of a certain size and material;
    • how leaflets are to be distributed;
    • notice of permission is to be produced on demand;
    • no amplification is allowed;
    • participants comply with police directions regarding traffic flow; or
    • participants are not to cause a traffic hazard.

Refusal of authorisation

If the notice of permission was given 5 business days or more before the proposed assembly and the Police Commissioner or the local authority wish to refuse authorisation, they may apply to a Magistrates Court for an order refusing to authorise the holding of the assembly under section 12. The relevant authority cannot apply to the Magistrates Court unless:

    • it has had regard to the objects of the PAA; AND
    • it has formed an opinion, on reasonable grounds, that the assembly would likely jeopardise * * safety, cause serious public disorder or excessively interfere with the rights or freedoms of people; AND
    • it has consulted or attempted to consult with all interested persons, such as the owner or occupier of the place of assembly; AND
    • mediation has taken place and has ended. (section 13)

The Court can then either refuse to authorise the assembly or set conditions for the assembly. (section 12(3))

If authorisation is refused, you cannot reapply. However, you may be able to seek review of the Magistrate’s decision. You should seek legal advice if you are considering a review application.

Magistrates Court proceedings

In determining whether to authorise or to refuse to authorise an assembly, the Magistrates Court must have regard to the objects of the PAA. It is not bound by the rules of evidence, must conduct the proceeding with as little formality and technicality as possible and determine the application as quickly as possible to ensure that the application is not frustrated by the Court’s delay. (ection 16(2))

Each party (that is, the organiser and the relevant authority) bears its own costs of the proceedings. (section 16(3)).

What are the costs?

There is no fee, charge or other amount payable for a licence, permit or other authorisation for a public assembly. (section 2(1)(d))

If there are court proceedings, you will have to pay your own costs, such as any filing fees and legal representation. (section 16(3)).