11 September 2007 In a ruling handed down by Auckland District Court Justice GV Hubble today, the Judge recognized the Mayor as ‘occupier’ of ‘the whole of the Council Chambers and its buildings’ for the intent and purpose of the Trespass Act 1980.
This means the Mayor has the absolute right in law, according to Judge Hubble, to order people removed from city buildings whose presence the Mayor decides to be objectional or disruptive – or if he has good reason to believe they might become so – so long as he does not act ‘capriciously’ in doing so.
Judge Hubble’s ruling found community activist Penny Bright guilty of crimimal trespass and discharged her without sentence, saying that she was well meaning and had suffered enough. The case stems from a 23 November 2006 Council Meeting called under urgency to consider a new waterfront stadium in Auckland.
Hubbard had denied Ms. Bright speaking rights at the meeting. Ms. Bright demonstrated her displeasure with the Mayor’s refusal by displaying a 1 by 1.5 metre banner in the public gallery that read “Mayor Hubbard’s DICKtatorship is a CEREAL matter – Don’t Buy it”.
The Mayor demanded she put the banner away but Ms. Bright refused; this refusal prompting the Mayor to temporarily adjourn the meeting while he summoned Police. By the time Police came the banner was gone but, when Ms. Bright refused to leave the meeting, the Mayor had her arrested for trespassing. The stadium proposal pushed by Hubbard eventually failed. The case of criminal trespass against Ms. Bright was pursued by the Crown at the Mayor’s urging.
The mild-mannered Hubble appeared reticient in issuing his judgment. His decision ran contrary to three previous District Court rulings that had favoured Ms. Bright in similar circumstances. Still Hubble remarkably praised Ms. Bright and, in response to Ms. Bright submissions ahead of the sentencing, said he agreed with all the points she made. The difference this time, according to the Judge, was the Mayor found the banner justifiably objectionable. The Judge agreed.
With his judgment today Hubble also strayed further than previous District Court judges in ruling the Mayor was the rightful ‘occupier’ of the City building and, as such, was within his right to demand people being disruptive or guilty of objectionable conduct be cited for criminal trespass if they failed to leave when ordered to do so. Paradoxically the Judge recognized the public’s right to access public buildings and attend public meetings.
He therefore qualified his judgment by stating the Mayor, as occupier, had this right “provided that occupier is not acting capriciously or on the basis of racial or other prejudice”.
Mayor Hubbard’s actions, which included refusing Ms. Bright speaking rights on a number of previous and subsequent occasions, were apparently not deemed prejudicial by Judge Hubble due to His Honour’s failure to mention this evidence in his judgment.
The Judge also did not seem to mind that neither the Police constable nor Auckland Council Service’s Manager Peter Burden could recall whether they had specifically issued a trespass warning to Ms. Bright before arresting her. The case included prosecution submissions and defense submissions
Given the stigma of a criminal conviction, Ms. Bright said she is determined to appeal Judge Hubble’s decision.