Court decision overturning protest convictions expected to help lay down guidelines to deal with future demonstrations Police insiders yesterday backed a Court of Final Appeal ruling that overturned the convictions of eight Falun Gong members, saying it would help the police to deal with protests in the future. Thursday's ruling reaffirmed the public's right to peacefully demonstrate, with the court quashing the conviction of eight Falun Gong practitioners charged with wilfully obstructing and assaulting the police offices restraining them. The case emerged from a peaceful March 14, 2002, protest outside the central government liaison office, during which 16 Falun Gong members were arrested. The eight appellants in this case resisted, with two of them biting arresting officers. Although the verdict might at first appear to be an inconvenient restraint to police work, some sources in management positions in the force welcomed it. They felt the ruling had cleared previously grey areas and would make it easier for them to decide whether a protest had caused an unreasonable obstruction to the public - which the court felt the Falun Gong practitioners had not. It was also hoped that with more clear-cut guidelines on what kind of protests should be stopped, the police would not be accused of acting under orders from Beijing in stopping events that mainland authorities may not like. And although the judgment said 'persons unlawfully in custody are entitled to use reasonable force to free themselves', the police insiders said they were confident people would continue to demonstrate peacefully. 'Of course it cannot be ruled out that a small proportion of people will use this ruling to become more unreasonable in the future, but overall the ruling is a good thing,' an officer commented. A representative for the frontline officers said the police might now have to adjust their strategies when dealing with peaceful protests. 'We have to handle each incident according to the actual circumstances, and in some cases we may have to resort to alternative peaceful measures,' said Lau Kam-wah, chairman of the Junior Police Officers' Association. 'For example, we could just clear the protesting crowd instead of arresting people and charging them, treating it as if someone has complained about being obstructed and we help remove the obstruction,' he said. 'This may or may not work as it's just a view I have before reading the verdict in depth.' The association chief said he was confident less peaceful or even combative protests - such as the violent anti-globalisation protests seen at World Trade Organisation meetings in the past - would still be straightforward to handle because of their nature. The Security Bureau is studying Thursday's judgment with the Department of Justice and will draw up guidelines for police officers to follow.