While his horse Barney grazed on the lawn outside the Nelson Courthouse, protester Lewis Stanton was inside, mounting a new legal challenge to his July arrest for obstructing a footpath.
Stanton was appealing his conviction for obstructing a footpath, relating to a July 18 arrest in Trafalgar St, Nelson. He was fined $200 by justices of the peace.
At the time of the arrest, Stanton, aka Hone Ma Heke, had been protesting outside the Farmers store in Trafalgar St for 16 months.
In the High Court at Nelson yesterday, in front of Justice Alan MacKenzie, defence lawyer Steven Zindel said Stanton had not been obstructing the footpath because people were still able to walk along Trafalgar St, but for the section where he was holding his protest, they just needed to stick to the middle of the path.
The view of the Farmers shop window had also not been obscured by Stanton's protest site, Mr Zindel said.
While technically, any presence on a footpath hindered movement, it was a question of degree, he said. "What was being asked of the people of Nelson was to not go along the side of the Farmers window but to adhere to the middle of the footpath."
Mr Zindel also referred to 57 photographs taken by a police photographer, showing that people used the spot where Stanton was protesting. During that time, a kiwi sign had taken up the same amount of space as Stanton's site, he said. "If the area already does have obstructions, that surely affects whether it can be used by pedestrians."
It was only to be expected that the police photographer would produce photographs of "something, rather than nothing", he said.
Mr Zindel said the conviction should be set aside, and even if this did not happen, the 13 days Stanton had spent in custody awaiting a hearing was sufficient punishment.
Crown prosecutor Emma Riddell said an impediment did not need to be an absolute barrier to people's movement to count as an obstruction, and in Stanton's case the justices of the peace had interpreted the law correctly.
She referred to the evidence of a police officer who had observed Stanton over a period of several days. Some people approaching his protest site turned the other way, others crossed the road, and others who were leaving Farmers walked back into the store, she said.
People had a right to use the portion of the footpath taken up by Stanton, perhaps to look at the Farmers window display up close, Ms Riddell said.
"At some point, the right of the general public must prevail over Lewis Stanton. After 16 months of protest, that time had come."
Justice MacKenzie reserved his decision.
Stanton had been living in Marsden Valley for several months, but now needs to find a new home after leaving the valley shortly before he was due to be served with a trespass order.
At a Nelson City Council meeting on Tuesday, councillors heard that he had waived any right to camp there.
At the same meeting, a Marsden Valley resident told the council to "harden up", and accused Stanton of defecating in a nearby creek.
Speaking outside the court yesterday, Stanton denied these accusations, saying he was an environmentalist and had buried his waste. He said he could identify each spot where his waste had been buried.
A condition of the council allowing him to stay in the valley was that he would use the toilets at the Marsden Valley cemetery.
During his stay in Marsden Valley, Stanton was seen at Tahunanui Beach, offering rides in his horse and cart. This drew a complaint from a tourism operator at the beach, who said he needed to abide by the same rules as other commercial operators.
A court injunction taken out by the council will be served if Stanton is seen there again.
Stanton said he was not a commercial operator, and instead relied on donations. He had offered the public rides without payment, he said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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