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Sign doubt signed out

Danny Lim at an Extinction Rebellion march in Sydney in August. Photo: Alec Smart

By ALEC SMART

Danny Lim, the 75-year-old Chinese man renowned for wearing cheeky sandwich-board style signs at prominent traffic junctions around Sydney, has had his conviction and $500 fine for offensive conduct overturned by an Appeal Court.

Lim, a veteran peace and environmental campaigner who displays slogans – often risqué and involving cheeky word-play – on tabards, appeared before magistrate Jacqueline Milledge at the Downing Centre Court on Friday 30 August, where the verdict was delivered.
City Hub sat alongside Lim in Court where there was much light-hearted banter between the judge and litigants, despite the serious nature of the proceedings. At one stage, while Lim was in the witness box, NSW Police solicitor Senior Sergeant Rick Mansley cross-examined him with Lim’s companion animal, a 14-year-old chihuaha-pomeranian named ‘Smarty’, sat on his lap!

Play on words
The ruling came exactly a year after another successful appeal for one of Lim’s ‘trade-mark’ signs that called Tony Abbot a ‘Cvnt’. On that occasion Judge Scoting ruled: “The language used was clearly a play on words. If the appellant’s conduct was offensive.. in my view it was only marginally so…. Politicians and their views are often subject to criticism in public.”
Lim was effectively exonerated and permitted to call then-Prime Minister Tony Abbot the C-word.

The sign that got him into hot water again on 11 January this year outside Barangaroo used another corruption of the C-word, said: “SMILE CVN’T! WHY CVN’T?”
Lim explained to City Hub that it was written to read as a conversation between two people, intended to provoke a smile at what he perceived were stony-faced and often sad people going back and forth to work.
“I try to make them smile with my signs. If you can’t smile, why?”

Lim’s solicitor, Bryan Wrench, of Murphy’s Lawyers – which worked the case pro-bono – showed the court photographs of his client wearing his provocative signs alongside a mixture of prominent politicians, including Former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, then Labor leader Bill Shorten, Labor Senator Kristina Keneally and Australian Conservatives’ Senator Cory Bernardi.
The judge accepted these submissions but pointed out that she wasn’t surprised that politicians were keen to be photographed with Lim when the slogan he wore mocked a political opponent or an opposition policy.

Provocative and cheeky
In her summing up, Judge Milledge said to Lim that she found his sign “provocative and cheeky, but not offensive”. She accepted Lim’s solicitor’s submission that the French Connection UK clothing store in Circular Quay, close to where Lim was arrested, uses a double entendre on a profane word, similar to Lim’s sign. The British clothing chain spells its name FCUK, which hundreds of children pass every day, most fully aware of its implied meaning.

However, Judge Milledge, herself a former police prosecutor, was critical of Lim’s arrest in January and described it as “heavy-handed and unnecessary”.
She was particularly scornful of Senior Constable Ashley Hans, the senior police officer who oversaw Lim’s arrest, who aggressively marched Lim towards a police truck, despite his cooperation.
“Lim was a compliant arrestee, unnecessarily handcuffed. He was in the midst of removing the sign but the police were physically traumatic and walked him some distance to a truck…
“Hans said to the probationary constable [Hodges]: ‘They’re all social justice idiots!’ but they were all ordinary citizens, random people, not hand-picked protestors. Calling them ‘bloody idiots’ is awful. That attitude has no place in the constabulary!”

In condemning the police arrest she paved the way for Lim to sue the NSW Police. Lim told City Hub that his solicitor is preparing a case.

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