Octagon legal opinion divided

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Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull said yesterday he would not rule out using private security guards to evict the Occupy Dunedin protesters, as the city council waited for "urgent clarification" on its legal position.

Mr Cull said private security was "not an option we would favour", and the council would much prefer to use the proper agencies of the country.

But a police decision not to enforce trespass notices meant the council appeared to have no jurisdiction over the public spaces it controlled.

Legal clarification came through late yesterday, and Mr Cull said it "reinforced our understanding of the legal position".

That differed from the police position, so council would have to continue considering its options for its next move.

Mr Cull said on Tuesday he was "completely at a loss" after Dunedin-Clutha area commander Inspector Greg Sparrow ruled out enforcing trespass notices that would have forced the protesters to quit their Octagon encampment.

Mr Cull told a media briefing yesterday there was an "overwhelming" message from the community it wanted the protesters gone.

The police response had "enormous" national implications for the rule of law, and he said he would be surprised if the decision had not been made at a national level.

"Other cities, I know, want them to be removed," Mr Cull said of the occupiers.

"They will presumably be doing that on the basis of bylaws.

"Everyone will face a very similar conundrum."

As well, the ruling meant anybody could camp on public land, put up a sign and say they were protesting, and could not be moved, Mr Cull said.

If the protesters had occupied private land they would have been evicted.

Asked about Mr Cull's statements, University of Otago law professor Andrew Geddis said the council was not a private landowner.

"That's the difference."

A private landowner did not have to worry about the Bill of Rights, which ensures the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, but the council did.

Asked if the matter opened the floodgates, and allowed anyone to camp on public land, Prof Geddis said it did not, as a court would use common sense when considering the matter.

He said the protesters would not be able to stay permanently.

If the council could show that harm was being caused, or that a group wanted to use the Octagon but could not because of the protesters, it would have a stronger case.

"If I was the council, I would keep a close log of the complaints being received of why people can't use the Octagon."

Asked if Dunedin was taking a leadership role on the issue, Mr Cull said it "just happens to be the first" to issue a trespass notice. The protest had more impact on the Dunedin community than in bigger cities, as the protesters were able to take over the centre of the city.

Asked if the council had handled the situation well, or if it had needlessly aggravated the protesters, Mr Cull said he, chief executive Paul Orders and staff had had ongoing dialogue with "the so-called leaders" of the protest group.

The compromise offered, where the group could keep one tent and an information kiosk, was raised with them before the trespass notice was issued.

Mr Cull said he was disappointed the group had not responded to the offer of a compromise.

- david.loughrey@odt.co.nz

 

 

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