Two animal rights activists demonstrating outside an Auckland fashion store that stocked fur garments were exercising their legitimate rights to protest, their lawyer told the Auckland District Court yesterday.

"They didn't cross the line between legitimate protest and unlawful behaviour," Grant Illingworth, QC, told Judge Caroline Henwood.

Mr Illingworth is representing Jessie Oliver Duffield, aged 24, of West Auckland, and Rochelle Rees, 19, of Hillsborough, who are accused of loitering near Belucci in Newmarket on May 10, 2004, knowing their conduct was likely to intimidate shop owner Manwa Wong.

Suzanne Elizabeth Carey, aged 31, who faces the same charge, is accused with Deirdre Davina Sims, 26, and Jasmine Gillespie-Gray, 20, all of Sandringham, of conduct likely to intimidate Ms Wong and her assistant Jennifer Paice in an incident a month earlier.

Jo Wickliffe, who represents the three, will open their defence case today.

At the close of the prosecution case, Mr Illingworth said there was no case to answer against his clients. Judge Henwood found there was a prima facie case against them, though the ultimate issue would have to be established beyond reasonable doubt after hearing all the evidence.

Mr Illingworth said Parliament never intended the offence of loitering with intent to to apply to protests.

The court was earlier told by prosecutor Mark Woolford that the case would set the boundaries between the rights of protesters and the legitimate rights of shopkeepers to conduct their lawful business.

Mr Illingworth said earlier cases established that there was a right to protest, which was affirmed under the Bill of Rights legislation.

Because the Bill of Rights required other statutes to be interpreted in a way that caused the least restriction to fundamental rights, Mr Illingworth maintained that loitering with intent to intimidate should not apply in this situation.

Judge Henwood raised the issue of the rights of shopkeepers.

Mr Illingworth acknowledged the rights of shopkeepers but said that whatever may have happened in the earlier protest, those rights were not infringed by his clients in the May demonstration.

* On Tuesday, the Herald reported that Ms Wong said that a protester spat in her face.

Ms Wong, in fact, said that as the protesters shouted at her, one came so close that she felt her spit on her face.