Nelson police say their successful prosecution of protester Lewis Stanton for obstructing the footpath in Trafalgar St gives them a mandate to rearrest him if he obstructs again.
Stanton, also known as Hone Ma Heke, has been fined $200 after being found guilty of obstruction. The decision, by Justices of the Peace, was released at 4pm yesterday after a three-hour hearing in Nelson District Court on Friday.
After hearing the decision, Stanton said he would not pay the fine, would look at appealing the decision and would continue his occupation outside the Farmers store.
Today, Nelson Bays area commander Inspector Steve Greally said the court decision was a pleasing result.
"It was never about his right to protest. It's about the obstruction he imposes on other people."
Mr Greally said it was the start of a long battle. The police would now evaluate their options and Stanton had the right to appeal.
"We take every case on its own merits. If Mr Stanton continues to obstruct, we will continue to act. Other community members have the right to use the footpath."
Stanton said he would continue to return daily to his protest site.
"If the police want to continue to waste valuable resources by arresting me every day, then they're quite welcome to."
Stanton has been protesting against the Nelson City Council outside Farmers with an array of cardboard signs for the past 17 months.
In June, he was sentenced to two months' imprisonment for refusing to do any of the 195 hours of community work he was sentenced to in October.
He had been found guilty of assault, and charges of trespass and graffiti, in relation to protests against the council.
The police arrested him on July 17, after warning him earlier in the day that he was obstructing the footpath and giving him time to move. He returned the next day and was arrested again.
He was remanded in custody after refusing to accept a bail condition banning him from the Nelson central business district between 7am and 7.30pm, but successfully appealed in the High Court on July 30 that the bail conditions were too restrictive.
On Friday, Stanton's lawyer, Jessica Herd, argued his case against the obstruction charge in the district court, saying that Stanton was entitled under the Bill of Rights Act to protest, and that act also gave passers-by the freedom of movement to walk down the street.
Stanton, who sleeps at night in a city park, said he would not pay the $200 fine.
"When you have nothing, how can they take it away from you?"
He said he would look at appealing the obstruction decision to the High Court.
He is protesting against the city council, which confiscated his horse and cart after he repeatedly broke council bylaws by staying overnight in council reserves.
The council has offered his horse and cart back on provision that he not camp overnight, but he has refused this, saying it breaches his human rights.
Judge rules on obstruction charge
Lewis Stanton's persistent protest in Nelson's Trafalgar St was a clear example of obstruction, says a court decision.
Justices of the Peace Donald Horn and Jill McKnight said in their decision there was no doubt in their minds that it was a "continuous" occupation of a public way by Stanton, also known as Hone Ma Heke.
"Although Mr Stanton has not always been present he has, for some 16 months, occupied the area for many hours on very many days.
"We also consider that anybody wishing to look into or examine the contents of the Farmers shop window would be impeded from passing or re-passing that part of the footpath immediately outside the window."
They considered it was "a very clear example of obstruction".
The JPs rejected the argument that advertising boards on the pavement, buskers and other groups were as much of an obstruction. They said the advertising signs were permitted and controlled under council bylaws, and buskers and other street hawkers were expected to operate under NCC permit.
The JPs did not accept the defence argument that Stanton's protest was a reasonable use of his freedom of expression, or that, when weighed against the minimal infringement of movement of the general public, the balance should weigh in favour of Stanton.
Finding him guilty of obstruction, they said: "We weighed the fact that Mr Stanton's action, in exercising what he regarded as a right to protest in a manner that would have impact, did over a long period of time constrain the rights of ordinary people to exercise their right not to be obstructed in normal passage along a public footpath. The extended nature of Mr Stanton's occupation of the pavement weighed considerably in reaching this decision.
"To regard Mr Stanton's actions as falling within the bounds of reasonableness in the context of establishing a ‘reasonable excuse' for the purposes of section 22 seems to us to be moving the balance between Mr Stanton's rights and the rights of the general public just too far in Mr Stanton's direction."
They fined Stanton $200 plus court costs of $132.89. The maximum fine is $1000.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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