5 May 2023

Supermarkets lose Supreme Court battle to extend alcohol sales hours

2:10 pm on 5 May 2023
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File photo. Photo: 123rf.com

Supermarket giants Foodstuffs and Woolworths New Zealand have lost a long-running legal battle to prevent Auckland Council imposing stricter sale times for alcohol.

After eight years of court cases and appeals, the Supreme Court has today unanimously dismissed the appeals.

The decision means that in Auckland, alcohol will no longer be sold past 9pm at off-licence stores such as supermarkets and bottle stores - two hours earlier than currently permitted.

It also allows the council to restrict new off-licences - including putting a temporary freeze on issuing new off-licences in some areas including the city centre.

In 2015, the council introduced a policy to limit alcohol sales but it was delayed by the court cases and appeals.

The Supreme Court today agreed that a restriction may be justified if there's a reasonable likelihood that it will reduce alcohol-related harm.

An off-licence sale is defined as alcohol bought to consume elsewhere.

Foodstuffs spokesperson Emma Wooster said the supermarket chain was disappointed by the result but respected the Supreme Court's decision.

It was also pleased the clarity provided on legal principles.

"We deliver a safe and responsible sale and supply of alcohol at all our licensed stores and the motivation behind appealing the decision has always been so our Auckland customers, who want to buy beer and wine, could have certainty around these products being available at the same time they do their supermarket shop.

"We acknowledge the clarity provided by the Supreme Court and we'll continue to focus on serving our local communities responsibly."

In a media release, Auckland Council said it welcomed the Court's decision.

Regulatory and Safety Committee chairperson Josephine Bartley said reducing alcohol harm in the community was at the heart of council's approach.

"We welcome the resolution of this appeals process and the opportunity to get on with implementing our local alcohol policy - eight years has been a long time to wait.

"While the changes won't happen overnight, we look forward to seeing alcohol suppliers reflect on the ways the policy will allow them to supply alcohol responsibly and where they can do their bit to mitigate the worst impacts of alcohol on their communities."

Auckland Council's chief of strategy Megan Tyler said there were still a number of outstanding matters before the Alcohol Regulatory and Licensing Authority that required resolution.

"We will now turn our attention to working through those," Tyler said.

Woolworths NZ has been approached for comment.

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