Police reprimanded by Alcohol Regulatory and Licensing Authority

Eric Crampton has highlighted a recent decision by the Alcohol Regulatory and Licensing Authority. He summarises:

The New Zealand police have been trying to usurp Councils’ legislative role in setting local alcohol policy. It looks like there has been a systematic campaign by the police, often with the Medical Officer of Health, to object to license renewals unless the licensee agrees to conditions the police want to put on the renewal.

The law passed by Parliament is that local Councils set licensing hours, not the Police and the Medical Officer of Health. But in some areas they have decided they know better than the law, and have been working to impose their views on all licence holders. Crampton summarises again:

The police in Wellington, along with the Medical Officer, have been bullying bottle shops, threatening to object to licence renewals unless they agree to earlier closing times. If there were some issue where a particular licensee had incompetent staff later in the evening and regular problems with, say, selling to intoxicated people or to minors after 10pm, then objections would be fair enough. But it’s really starting to look like the police just want all of downtown to have earlier closing times because they don’t like the closing times that Council chose. They had their say during the LAP process, didn’t get their way, and are trying to bully their way through by their power to make it tough for licensees to get their licenses renewed. The power to veto is the power to legislate.

There is a big difference between objecting because a licence holder has broken the conditions of their licence, and objecting just because the Police want them to close earlier.

So what has the ARLA said in this case:

[77] Both appeals before the Authority relate to the appellants’ dissatisfaction with the DLC not imposing restricted trading hours by way of a condition imposed on the licence. It is clear from their submissions that they opposed this application, in large part, because the licensee did not agree to shorter opening hours, notwithstanding that they accepted other conditions put to them.

[78] The Authority would be concerned if both the Police and the Medical Officer of Health went into the DLC hearing because they failed to negotiate a 9.00 pm closing time to achieve, as the second appellant put it, a “goal to reduce accessibility”.

[79] Reporting agencies should be careful to avoid ‘negotiating’ conditions with an applicant in exchange for those agencies not opposing the application. Doing so risks creating the impression that they have used their statutory reporting function under s 103 to achieve their own ends.While the interests of reporting agencies are undoubtedly of significant importance, and it is for that reason that they have been given a function under s 103, the Authority would take a dim view if opposition turned on whether an applicant agreed with reporting agencies’ recommendations on conditions. The role of the Police and the Medical Officer of Health under s 103 is clear. They are to inquire into the application and if they have any matters in opposition, to file with the DLC a report on those matters. The evaluative exercise under s 131, and the imposition of conditions, is for the DLC alone and not for the Medical Officer of Health or the Police. It would be an improper use of their reporting role in s 103 if that was used in a way that effectively usurped the DLC’s licensing function.

This is a major slap down by a judicial body of the Police and the Medical Officer of Health. They have been called out for improper use of their roles.

This should be enough for the respective Ministers of Police and Health to tell their agencies that their job is to enforce the law, not try and create the law. When a judicial body says they are apparently acting in a way that usurps the functions of district licencing committees, they need to stop. And if they won’t stop themselves, then they should lose their special status under the Act.

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