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March 29, 2010 | by  | in Opinion |
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Laying down the law

Laying down the law

It’s late in the evening on St Paddy’s day and you’re walking down Church St with your mates, beer in hand, only to be stopped by the police. You’re informed that you’ve just entered a liquor free zone and that you’ll either have to pour out your Epic Armageddon (let’s be honest, you were probably drinking Flame) or take a ride to the nearest police station. So you want to know, what’s the deal with the Wellington Liquor Ban? Why is it legal to drink outside Vic House but not outside McKenzies? And most importantly, how are things about to change?

The powers of local authorities, including the Wellington City Council, are governed by the Local Government Act 2002. Under s147 of the Act, local authorities are given the power to make bylaws for the consumption or possession of liquor in any place. The Wellington City Council did just that in July 2008 by establishing a liquor-free zone covering the majority of Wellington City, Oriental Bay, Aro Valley and the very top of Mt Victoria which applies every hour of the day. The Act gives police the power to search for, seize and remove any opened liquor, and to arrest you. While you’re still allowed to take unopened alcohol through the liquor ban area to a licensed premises or back home, the police could still take your unopened bottles if they think you’re going to consume it in the liquor ban area. Police discretion plays a huge part in how liquor control is ultimately enforced. Most people who have encountered this sort of breach in town will be aware that police officers tend to use their discretion to instruct people with opened bottles of liquor to pour the offending liquid into the nearest stormwater drain or face arrest.

In the last two months, the City Council has proposed a new option which would spread the liquor ban to be citywide, meaning that a glass of bubbles at Scorching Bay or any attempt to continue drinking while en route to town would come under the jurisdiction of police scrutiny. The idea was initially proposed to help strengthen the powers of police to deal with situations in Newtown, where currently police could only make arrests where they felt one might injure themselves, others or property under s36 of the Policing Act—a reasonably high standard. It certainly seems to have some significant support with only one Councillor voting against the writing of a draft proposal. Police have insisted that they will apply any new bylaw so as not to spoil the fun of sensible drinkers, but it remains to be seen whether the police will be able to use their discretion to fairly enforce any new bylaw.

Not that liquor restrictions are really anything new, s38 of the Summary Offences Act 1981 imposes a $300 fine on anyone caught drinking in or on an unlicensed vehicle, aircraft, ship, train… or hovercraft! 

Just remember, while we like to think otherwise, none of the contributors to this column are qualified and are a few thousand dollars away from being so, ergo nothing in this column should be treated as legal advice.

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