Peter Munro | The Age | 31 July 2011
POLICE powers to ban people from licensed venues could be challenged in the Supreme Court after a young woman was excluded for a year from every pub, bottle shop and licensed restaurant in her home town despite not being found guilty of any crime.
The 21-year-old was banned under a ''liquor accord'' between police and licensees from supermarket liquor outlets and licensed pizza shops, cafes and clubs in Swan Hill after being charged with apparently unrelated drugs offences. Similar bans under Victoria's liquor laws are limited to cases of alcohol-related violence or disorder.
Police appeared to be overstepping their powers, said Victorian Legal Aid's senior public defender, Saul Holt. ''She will be prevented for the next 12 months from attending 21st birthday parties of friends at licensed venues, prevented from having meals out with family at licensed venues and prevented from going to the supermarket,'' he said.
''A significant part of her ability to participate in community life has been stopped by this banning notice.''
Legal Aid was considering challenging the banning notice in the Supreme Court because there was no evidence that suggested their client was involved in any offence related to licensed premises, he said.
There are 89 liquor licence accords in Victoria with banning powers to combat alcohol-related crime. But the Swan Hill and District Liquor Industry Accord permits bans in connection with any alleged offence or breach of council by-laws. Bans are issued by police or licensees without court oversight. The only right of appeal is to a senior police officer.
''You could be banned from your local pub or club for littering outside a licensed premises, based on the way this particular accord is drafted,'' Mr Holt said.
''We don't have any difficulty per se with the power to do it in limited circumstances, such as when there is a very serious violent incident at a licensed premises. But it's the breadth and lack of oversight of these orders that concerns us.''
The Liquor Control Reform Act separately allows bans from licensed premises in major metropolitan areas such as Melbourne's CBD. Courts can issue one-year ''exclusion orders'' from designated areas where a person is found guilty of specified offences such as assault, rape or obscene behaviour. Police may also issue 72-hour bans in designated areas to reduce alcohol-related violence or disorder.
In March, police used an accord to ban 12 people charged with drugs offences from all licensed premises in the adjoining cities of Swan Hill and Murray Downs, in New South Wales. In response to legal pressure, police this month limited the 21-year-old's ban to pubs and clubs in the area. Sergeant Carlton Toohey, in the liquor licensing portfolio, said the accused had ''been seen in licensed premises where it is suspected drug transactions were taking place''.
''We're trying to lessen the amount of drug harm in Swan Hill and this is one way we thought to do it,'' he said.
But he admitted police had only anecdotal evidence of a link between the alleged offending and licensed premises.
Consumer Affairs Minister Michael O'Brien did not respond when asked whether such bans should be limited to cases of alcohol-related violence and be subject to court oversight. In 2007, when in opposition, he argued people banned from licensed premises for 24 hours ''should have the right to have their day in court''.
Victoria Police did not provide statistics on banning notices or exclusion orders for last financial year. The number of 24-hour bans increased 30 per cent in 2009-10 to 1868. Courts made 32 exclusion orders during the year.