Patriot activist Blair Cottrell was back at Victoria’s County Court yesterday for a special directions hearing in his appeal against his 2017 conviction for “intent to incite ridicule or contempt of Muslims”.
To date Cottrell and his lawyer John Bolton had been arguing his conviction under Victoria’s Racial and Religious Tolerance Act in 2015 violated Australians’ implied right to political communication. They had initially sought to have the case heard by the High Court but were sent back to Victoria’s County Court.
Cottrell along with fellow patriot activists Neil Erikson and Christopher Shortis were charged and convicted in September 2017 under the Act 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 special directions hearing dealt with an application by John Bolton to have the case heard in the Supreme Court of Victoria, after the Victorian Attorney-General Jill Hennessy conceded that Cottrell’s rights may have been violated under Victoria’s Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities by his conviction.
Specifically Cottrell’s human right to freedom of expression under section 33 of the charter and his freedom of political discourse under section 18.
Bolton argued that the Supreme Court being Victoria’s highest court could only deliver a ruling on the compatibility of Racial and Religious Tolerance Act with the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities.
Bolton also made the point that Cottrell right’s to political expression and engagement should not be balanced by people right’s not to have their beliefs in the supernatural ridiculed.
The representatives from the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Attorney-General argued against the matter being referred to the Supreme Court as the matter at hand was simply a matter of statutory construction and appellate courts had heard charter of rights issues before. Therefore the matter should remain at the County Court to avoid further delay.
Judge Lisa Hannan listened all legal arguments carefully and with consideration and reserved her decision until next Tuesday at 9am.
We spoke with Blair Cottell and John Bolton outside the County Court following the hearing.
There were three other mainstream media journalists present in the courtroom, though the only report to make it into the mainstream media was by Tessa Akerman of the Australian whose report featured quotes from three legal experts who all agreed that the right to free speech needed be balanced to protect others from hate speech and vilification.
Cottrell had a small group of patriot supporters present in the courtroom for the hearing, including Neil Erikson who was also convicted under the same Act for the Bendigo beheading stunt. Outside the court building Erikson confronted a Channel Seven reporter who he believed made disparaging comments about Cottrell.
Christopher Shortis the other patriot charged and convicted over the beheading stunt had been in court on Monday at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal. He was challenging a decision to deny him a license to practice as a security guard based on the conviction. A decision on that matter will be made next month.