Gypsy Day 2011 in Southland saw the beginning of local government prosecutions dealing in ‘effluent’ or ‘animal waste’. Gypsy Day is an extremely busy time of year for farmers and solicitors with a rural practice, with large numbers of stock being moved between farms at this time.
These prosecutions were the first nationally to be taken, pursuant to section 15 of the Resource Management Act 1991, for discharge of effluent from stock trucks onto roads whilst transporting stock.
Controversially, the Land Transport Act 1998 specifically excludes animal waste, so any infringement avenue under that Act is not possible. The intent to prosecute was contentious from the beginning for all the stakeholders concerned. The ‘truckies’, as they became known, were only one part of a large industry and much work had already gone into prevention strategy discussions between the Road Transport Forum and stakeholders prior to this step being taken by Environment Southland.
From a legal perspective, the requisite proof of the elements of section 15 was interesting. Some of the issues for hearing included whether there was a discharge at all (photographic evidence in some cases was marginal) and whether the trucks had sufficient capacity to deal with stock effluent (that involved working out how much effluent a stock unit will produce, over a particular distance, as against the truck storage units).
Interestingly, preliminary matters traversed (but never determined due to resolution with the case part heard) were whether the police, under the Land Transport Act powers conferred, were even able to stop the trucks to enable Environment Southland staff to question the drivers in the first place. Following on from that, whether evidence obtained by Environment Southland was therefore in breach of section 21 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 was also considered.
The prosecutions that did go to hearing were resolved within a part-heard hearing by the withdrawal of all charges on the basis of a $750 costs contribution being paid by the defendant company to Environment Southland.
In another prosecution around the same time against a different company, again some charges were withdrawn. However, on the two charges to which guilty pleas were entered, fines of $1500 were imposed, which was a first nationally by way of sentencing for this type of matter.
This is but a brief overview of a very controversial bunch of prosecutions, really relevant to the provinces, businesses and economy. Ultimately the decisions to prosecute in Southland deeply affected relations between Environment Southland and local stakeholders in the industry. There was much local outrage and media attention was drawn to the issue, from local newspapers to Campbell Live.
In essence a collaborative, preventive approach was urged upon Environment Southland rather than counter-productive, secular attempts to prosecute just one party out of a number involved. The costs of pursuing these prosecutions probably outweighed any benefit to Environment Southland.
Suffice to say, there have not been any subsequent prosecutions in the following Gypsy Days.