IMAGE: Crystal McKinnon (pictured) and another BLM protester have had charges against them dropped. (Diego Fedele/AAP PHOTOS)
A rollercoaster prosecution of two women accused of breaching public health orders by organising a Black Lives Matter protests during a 2020 COVID-19 lockdown has ended.
Meriki Onus and Crystal McKinnon walked free from Melbourne Magistrates Court on Tuesday afternoon after charges against them were dropped.
They had been accused of breaching the Chief Health Officer’s COVID-19 directions by arranging a protest in Melbourne in June 2020.
The women first fought in June last year to have the charges withdrawn after their lawyers were notified the case would be dismissed because charges were “fatally flawed”.
That was incorrect, according to prosecutors, who claimed an email to lawyers was sent by someone who did not have the power to make that decision.
A second attempt to toss the charges was made in November when prosecutors attempted to change their wording.
Magistrate Andrew McKenna ruled against the changes and on Tuesday prosecutor Matt Fisher applied to withdraw them.
“The matter has been carefully considered by the prosecution and as a result of the ruling of the court the prosecution seeks to withdraw the charges,” he said.
Mr McKenna formally struck out the charges and ordered Victoria Police cover the women’s reasonable costs of their defence.
They were in court for the decision. Supporters handed them bouquets of native flowers moments before the hearing began.
Outside court they said it had been a long and difficult three years fighting the charges, thanking their legal team and supporters.
“However we would like to emphasise that the fight is not over. One death in custody, one death by the state is one too many,” Ms Onus said.
“We would like to extend our solidarity and support to all people and groups organising and fighting for justice to end racism and the ongoing violence.”
Ms McKinnon thanked those who helped to organise the 2020 Black Lives Matter rally, the speakers who shared their stories and experiences of racism and violence and those who attended or supported from home.
Their barrister, Patrick Doyle SC, previously argued the charge against them was mangled and inaccurate because it alleged the women breached a direction or requirement by meeting with 20 or more people that they lived with.
It also did not mention who made the direction, though it referred to Chief Health Officer exemptions.
Mr McKenna himself noted the wording of the charge was mangled in a frightful way and “might as well be made by a Martian”.
His experienced eye had to read it over and over to get a reasonable meaning, and that was not how an accused should have to contend with an allegation, he said.
Francesca Holmes, who represented Victoria Police in that November hearing, also acknowledged the terrible drafting and grammar.
She had also applied to change the dates of the alleged offending, but that application were also rejected.