Refusing to sit down for take-off on a flight is not an acceptable form of protest, a court has ruled.
A Melbourne university student took that action last year on an interstate Qantas flight as a way of protesting against the deportation of an asylum seeker on the same flight. In Broadmeadows Magistrates Court in north Melbourne last week, the student, Jasmine Pilbrow, 22, was found guilty of interfering with an airline crew member.
Pilbrow told the court it was not a crime to stand up for a man whose life was at risk, the Guardian reported.
She had refused to sit down before take-off for Darwin unless a Tamil man, who was being deported to Sri Lanka, was allowed to leave the plane. As a result, Australian Federal Police (AFP) boarded the aircraft and removed the man. Pilbrow then left the plane.
She was charged over the incident in February this year.
Pilbrow disputed the charge, telling the court her actions were reasonable and had been effective because they had led to the man being taken off the plane. She cited a provision whereby someone responding to “circumstances of sudden or extraordinary emergency” is not guilty of an offence.
The prosecutor said that the fact Pilbrow disagreed with government policy did not constitute an emergency according to law.
Magistrate Meaghan Keogh found Commonwealth prosecutors had proved the charge against Pilbrow and said that because a person had strong personal beliefs it did not mean they weren’t criminally liable for an offence.
Magistrate Keogh asked Pilbrow to voluntarily pay Qantas AUD 3429, the figure Qantas said the incident cost, in terms of fuel costs and delays to several flights, the Age reported.
The magistrate also asked Pilbrow to pay about AUD 300 in legal costs to the Commonwealth. An order for court costs cannot be made until sentencing, which will occur in November.
Section 24 of the Civil Aviation Act 1988 states that any person who “interferes with a crew member of an aircraft in the course of the performance of his or her duties” commits an offence.
The maximum penalty for the crime is two years’ imprisonment.
Written by Peter Needham