The Independent Police Conduct Authority has found that Police were not justified in stopping vehicles at a vehicle checkpoint to identify individuals who had attended an “Exit International” meeting in Lower Hutt on 2 October 2016.
Police had been monitoring the meeting as part of an investigation into the death of an elderly woman who had ingested pentobarbitone, a controlled drug used to euthanise animals. While monitoring the meeting Police overheard a discussion about how to import the drug and ways to commit suicide.
Police considered that the meeting attendees might be at risk of harm and set up a checkpoint immediately after the meeting had concluded, to identify them. Police intended to provide welfare support to those identified, and visited a number of people for that purpose several days after the checkpoint happened.
The Police power to stop a vehicle is provided by section 114 of the Land Transport Act 1998. This enables Police to stop motorists for the purpose of enforcing land transport legislation. The checkpoint was not for that purpose and was therefore unlawful.
“Police should have recognised that they had no power to stop vehicles in these circumstances”, said Authority Chair, Judge Colin Doherty. “It was an illegitimate use of Police power that unlawfully restricted the right of citizens to freedom of movement.”
However, the Authority has found that the subsequent Police welfare support visits did not breach the Privacy Act 1993 and were in accordance with Police operational policy and the duty of Police to protect life and safety.
“The Authority acknowledges that the welfare support visits generated stress and apprehension among some of those visited”, said Judge Doherty. “But they were well intentioned and generated by a genuine concern for the wellbeing of those visited. There is no evidence that the visits were intended or used for any investigative purpose.”