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Catch-22 for scuppered skipper

Alcohol-free precincts have become all the rage with various councils around the country

Chris Hutching
Sat, 16 Jun 2012

Alcohol-free precincts have become all the rage with various councils around the country

But the civic leaders who enthusiastically vote in such bylaws are often blissfully unaware of the power they confer on the thin (or thick, depending) blue line.

Bylaws generally create offences of strict liability.

Unlike a murder allegation, offences of strict liability mean that an offence is committed regardless of intent or knowledge – for example, there’s little point in claiming you didn’t know you were in an alcohol-free area.

Most traffic offences such as speeding come under this category (don’t bother complaining you never saw the sign stating a speed limit upon entering a town).

This often leaves citizens at the tender mercy of the discretion of police, the vast majority of whom are fine, upstanding, intelligent, diligent, fair and honest folks. But some are also inexperienced. Or they may just be having a bad day.

A case in point arose in the Christchurch High Court this week.

The skipper of a fishing boat was visiting Timaru.

After visiting a pub in town he was walking back to his boat when he fell in with a companion who was carrying a bag with cans of beer.

They stopped at a seat overlooking Caroline Bay and the companion opened a can and handed it to the skipper.

Seconds later the striped blue car turned up. The skipper later claimed he said he was happy to move along immediately.

But the situation escalated. The pair was taken back to the station. Next morning the constable presented his affidavit to two justices of the peace (well meaning folk who often have little knowledge of law but trust their local bobby).

The skipper received a $150 fine and conviction, which he discovered only later because by that time he was steaming homewards over the ocean to his home in Bay of Plenty with a sour taste in his mouth.

Belatedly, the seafarer decided that this was a matter of significant principle to him and he regretted not challenging the charge.

So this week he travelled south and sought leave of a High Court judge in Christchurch to appeal or have the conviction quashed.

The judge seemed sympathetic but reluctantly pointed out that his powers were limited. The best he could do was order justices of the peace to re-hear the matter and the skipper would be able to present his case.

Unfortunately the matter would have to be heard back in Timaru, the judge said in an apologetic tone.

Defendants could not dictate where they wanted their cases heard, he said.

Having come so far “on a matter of principle”, the skipper accepted the crumbs from the judge’s table and now awaits a fixture before the Timaru JPs.

Chris Hutching
Sat, 16 Jun 2012
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Catch-22 for scuppered skipper