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From picket to court

Ed McMahon follows up the legal action from last year’s strikes.

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2013 was a year of industrial dispute at the University of Sydney – the first in a decade – and while the ink may be drying on a new Enterprise Bargaining Agreement, the dispute continues to echo in the Courts.

Several criminal trials commenced before the Local Courts in early December. These trials principally arose from the eleven arrests that were made at the 24-hour strike held on June 5 last year.

Rafi Alam, a former editor of Honi, was the first to face charges. Alam is accused of using offensive language in a public place and wilfully obstructing an officer in the course of duty. The latter charge attracts a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment.

Alam’s trial is ongoing and has so far seen two days of hearing. Much of that time has been occupied with a series of police witnesses. The third and final of these witnesses, Sergeant Strawbridge, has been the most important to the prosecution’s case.

In his testimony Strawbridge recounted to the Court the forcible removal of picketers from the road, whereupon several arrests were made. Strawbridge testified that, during this process, Alam was “getting in the personal space of [his] officers” and “grabbing at them and their prisoners.” Strawbridge testified that Alam repeated the phrase “Fuck you, cunt,” on at least ten occasions.

During cross examination, Strawbridge was shown footage of Alam’s arrest. The footage revealed that Alam had said, “What the fuck are you doing?” as a small student was pushed to the ground by an officer. Alam is then arrested by an officer other than Strawbridge. After viewing the footage, Strawbridge preferred the phrase “I don’t recall” in his testimony.

He also offered a new explanation for the events of Alam’s arrest, suggesting that Alam may have escaped after his initial arrest and rejoined the picket, where he then shouted “Fuck you, cunt”. Alam rejects this explanation.

Alam’s trial will enter a third day of hearing in April, some ten months following his arrest. “The trial is tedious and really exposes the faults in how the justice system functions,” said Alam. He expressed concern that in Local Court criminal matters, which comprise about 90 per-cent of criminal cases in NSW, it is a member of the police force who conducts the prosecution case. “This gives them an incentive to not drop matters where the case should clearly be acquitted,” he said.

Two of the arrestees have been acquitted to date; including University of Sydney Union board director (voluntarily suspended pending unrelated proceedings) Tom Raue. Another of the cases avoided court when all charges against Tenaya Al-Attas, last year’s SRC Education Officer, were dropped.

Brigitte Garozzo, former SRC Welfare Officer, was similarly notified that her charges had been dropped. However, she was later informed that the charges had been resumed. Garozzo’s charges will be heard in the coming months.

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