Blair Cottrell’s appeal against his 2017 conviction for “ intent to incite ridicule or contempt of Muslims” has received a boost. This comes after an admission by Victorian Attorney General Jill Hennessy that Cottrell’s human right to freedom of expression and freedom of political discourse under Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities may have been violated by his conviction.
This admission is particularly intriguing given the Attorney-General decided to become involved in Cottrell’s appeal at the County Court in an effort to protect Victoria’s laws against hate speech, which the state argues safeguard’s community cohesion.
Cottrell along with fellow patriot activists Neil Erikson and Christopher Shortis were charged with violating Victoria’s Racial and Religious Tolerance Act in 2015 for participating in mock Islamic beheading video broadcast to Facebook during the United Patriots Front’s activism against the construction of a mosque in Bendigo. The trio were convicted at a trial at the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court in September 2017.
Cottrell decided to appeal his conviction and engaged the services of patriot lawyer John Bolton. They have argued that Victoria’s Racial and Religious Tolerance Act is unconstitutional as it violates Australia’s implied right to political communication.
They were initially directed to lodge their appeal to the High Court of Australia last year, it was sent back to Victoria’s County Court to decide, as the High Court was unwilling to hear such a case until it had been tested in lower courts.
There have been two previous County Court mentions this year relating to Cottrell’s appeal, both presided over by Judge Lisa Hannan. A 10 day trial is scheduled to commence on 12th August.
But with this new development dealing with a violation of Cottrell’s rights under the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities, a special directions hearing will take place at the County Court where John Bolton will lodge an application to the Supreme Court of Victoria to confirm the violation.
Cottrell had been been crowdfunding his appeal through PayPal, though his account was frozen in December last year. Following that he then asked his followers to direct deposit donations to his bank account. However, last month his bank Westpac informed him they were closing his account for commercial reasons.
He has also been deplaformed from Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and is only able to communicate with his followers about updates on the case through his Gab account.
We shall await Tuesday’s hearing to see if this latest twist in the appeal process does amount to a significant breakthrough for Cottrell and Bolton.