Saturday, January 08, 2005

The Gunns writ is an attack on democracy: "Greg Barns seeks to defend Gunns, the Tasmanian timber and woodchip conglomerate, from charges that it is stifling free speech by suing 20 environmentalists and environmental groups for $6.36 million ('Say what you will, this is not about free speech', on this page last Tuesday). He is dead wrong on all counts. ......... In some cases the writ specifies a person or people who committed the acts, which makes me wonder why these individuals are not being sued individually for the relevant damages. In many other cases the writ alleges that 'one or more' of the individuals listed performed the action. If they do not know for sure, why impute responsibility to a whole group, at least some of who weren't even present? However, the most damning aspect of the suit is that some of the actions being sued for simply are not criminal acts directed against Gunns or its contractors. One claim is that defendants have engaged in 'publicising grievances about the environment and the activities of (Gunns) both in Australia and with its customers and consumers overseas'. This is simply a definition of protest. In several other parts of the writ, Gunns allege that signs were affixed to trees and fences on Crown land near logging coups. Entering this land and putting signs on it may be criminal (in no very terrible way), but it is not a crime against Gunns. Protesting against Gunns may damage its interests, but it isn't criminal or wrong. Connecting the protest against Gunns to alleged minor criminal acts against the Crown doesn't alter the fact that Gunns is suing people for voicing their opinions. If the criminal acts themselves give rise to damages, it is the Crown that is entitled to sue, not Gunns. Gunns is not a 'victim of crime' just because the crime enabled people to protest against it. ......... Gunns is not entitled to overturn these profound principles in the civil courts........."

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