Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Private law, public law, and a liquor ban I can support

Drinking in public, outside of zones of public land prescribed by local governments, is wonderfully legal in New Zealand. So if you want to walk over, on the public sidewalk, beer in hand, to your neighbour's house, that's perfectly OK. I like that.

Countdown, one of NZ's big chain supermarkets, has been having some trouble, though, with folks drinking in their parking lot in Mangere (not one of the places that'll get highlighted for tourists visiting NZ; Google News link gives one of the front page headlines "Referee hit by baby-holding spectator"). So Countdown's owners asked City Council to include their parking lot as one of the prescribed places for a liquor ban. Council agreed, Countdown put up signs warning of the private liquor ban. Eminently reasonable.

But apparently, reports the National Business Review, liquor bans can only be enforced on public land, not on private land, even if the landowner requests it. The most that the police or private security could do is issue a trespass notice against folks drinking in the parking lot and arrest them for trespass if found there again.

Isn't it a shame that property owners cannot contract with the monopoly law provider, government, for different services?


  1. No it is not. They can hire their own bloody security guards. There's enough problems with the police enforcing local body alcohol prohibitions as it is, which contravenes the separation of central and local government jurisdictions.

  2. I'd also have no problem with their hiring security guards. But, as best I'm aware, all the security guards can do is ask folks to leave and call the cops if they don't.

    Now, if they could hire private security folks who could enforce Countdown's preferred set of rules and apply Countdown's preferred set of penalties in accordance with a procedure set in place by Countdown for adjudication, then I'd not be too keen on their asking the government to do it. But they're not allowed to -- they have to work through the monopoly agent.

  3. Yep, that's about right. But isn't trespass good enough? The NBR claims the court threw out the charge and fair enough too.

    And be careful what you wish for. I was having a yak with a Wellington city councillor the other day and they brought up a point about that whole public drinking thing you like so much. I might have misinterpreted what they said, but as I understand it there's a move to blanket ban alcohol consumption everywhere, not just just in council designated prohibition zones.

    From what you've been writing all these months, I'd say that such plans go against your more laissez faire philosophy.

  4. I didn't say that I favour councils putting in place drinking bans, Will. But I certainly prefer that it be a decision left to local councils for certain areas than, like in Canada or the US, something that's generally prohibited at all unless explicitly allowed-for. So in Manitoba, where I grew up, open liquor anywhere but on your own property (or someone else's, with permission) was prohibited. If you wanted to walk to a neighbour's house, beer in hand, it was forbidden unless you shared a property line and didn't have to cross a street to get there.

    As I understand things, someone given a trespass notice is forbidden to return to the property for two years. Countdown may well want them to be able to shop there, just not drink in the parking lot. Something more finely grained than trespass is needed to achieve the desired effect.

  5. Surely Countdown could charge a fee for drinking alcohol on their property (advertised as a condition of entry to the parking lot), say $500. This is effectively a fine.

    If the customer doesn't pay, they can take civil action, and probably a tresspass notice too.

  6. @Magic: That would be a nice solution, but I'd put low odds on such a rule being enforceable in the courts (or at least at any reasonable transaction cost); I'd also reckon Countdown would figure the framing of the rule (Come drink in our lot for a fee!) would put off some customers.