4 May 2020

Police Commissioner on enforcing lockdown: 'I'm confident that we acted lawfully'

10:34 am on 4 May 2020

The Police Commissioner says he's confident police acted lawfully in enforcing the level 4 lockdown.

Police Commissioner Andrew Coster.

Police Commissioner Andrew Coster. Photo: Pool / NZME

Emails leaked to the New Zealand Herald from Deputy Commissioner Mike Clement to other top officers share a Crown Law opinion warning police they had little to no power to enforce the lockdown during the first two weeks of it, and officers should be operating as though the country were at level 1.

This led Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield to issue additional guidelines under the Health Notice, two weeks after the lockdown began, to clarify the alert level 4 rules.

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Police Commissioner Andrew Coster told Morning Report police were "conservative" in how they enforced the lockdown early on while they got clarity around their powers.

"At the start of any operation we will ascertain what powers we have in order to enforce whatever it is we are trying to achieve," he said.

"In this case we had powers under the Civil Defence Emergency Management Act and under a Health Notice. Early on the power we used were predominantly Civil Defence Emergency Management Act powers and those allowed us to give directions to people where it appeared that they weren't complying with the lockdown controls.

"So that is what we were routinely doing and that was entirely lawful, where we took enforcement action early on it was for repeated, persistent breaches of directions given by police. So those were the powers we had, those were the powers we used and as I say I'm confident that we acted lawfully."

Commissioner Coster said it was "challenging" for police early on in the lockdown, but is confident none of his staff overstepped the mark in enforcing it.

"The direction to our people was that enforcement action needed to follow warning or direction to comply with the controls and a failure to do so and that's in those early stages before the second Health Notice was issued, those were the powers we exercising, but we need to bear in mind the vast majority of people were doing the right thing, it was always our intention to educate and encourage before enforcement and that's how we approached that period.

"It was fit for purpose at the time, as time went on and there was less excuse for not knowing and not complying was when we took the steps that we needed to under the Health Notice of more proactive prosecution," Coster said.

Commissioner Coster said there is no confusion on police's behalf now that the Health Notice is crystal clear.

ACT leader David Seymour has been campaigning for weeks for Attorney-General David Parker to release the advice Crown Law gave police on enforcing the lockdown.

Seymour says the leaked emails reaffirms his stance.

"Whether that was because the lockdown was based on the wrong legislation or because the drafting of the initial section 70 notice was inadequate, incompetence, in the Beehive or at the Ministry of Health, has put frontline police officers on shaky legal ground.

"There are now serious questions about whether Police officers exceeded their legal authority in carrying out checkpoints, arrests and shutting down businesses," Seymour said.

Coster was unable to provide an update on the number of breaches in level 3 lockdown, but said he would be able to later in the day.

During the first weekend at level 3 there were 685 reports of breaches in the 24 hours from 6pm on Friday. Enforcement action was taken against 112 people.

  • If you have symptoms of the coronavirus, call the NZ Covid-19 Healthline on 0800 358 5453 (+64 9 358 5453 for international SIMs) or call your GP

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