A long-running legal battle sparked by a driver who successfully challenged a conviction for driving while suspended has been thrown out by judges at New Zealand's highest court.
The landmark case, which was finally settled in a judgment released today by the Supreme Court, came after a routine police stop that happens dozens of times across the country every day.
A police officer stopped a driver after the police automatic number plate recognition system advised that he was driving while his licence was suspended.
When drivers accumulate 100 or more demerit points, the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) is obliged under section 90 of the Land Transport Act 1998 to "give notice in writing" that their licence has been suspended for three months, or, if they are unlicensed, that they have been disqualified from holding a driver licence for three months.
Notice may be "served" by the NZTA, a person approved by the agency, or by an enforcement officer, including a police officer.
The police officer in this case completed a standard form using information from the NZTA's database and served it on the driver. He was then charged with driving while suspended.
But the driver defended the charge, claiming that the section 90 notice was invalid because it was the police, and not the NZTA, who had "give[n] notice in writing".
The defence was rejected by a District Court judge and the driver was convicted.
He then appealed to the High Court at Christchurch where a judge ruled that the NZTA had not fulfilled its obligation to give notice to the driver in writing of his suspension, and that the conviction should be quashed.
The quashing prompted the Solicitor-General to seek leave to refer to the Court of Appeal two questions of law: whether the High Court was correct to conclude that the requirements of section 90 had not been met; and, if so, whether the correct remedy was the quashing of the driver's conviction.
The Court of Appeal agreed with the High Court, and so the Solicitor-General took it to the Supreme Court; the court of last resort in New Zealand.
In a judgment released today, Supreme Court judges unanimously concluded that the NZTA had indeed fulfilled its duty to give notice by causing police to serve the required information on drivers who are liable to receive such notices.
"We are unable to agree with the High Court and Court of Appeal that the act 'distinguishes between composition of the notice and its communication to the driver'," the ruling says.
Under the Criminal Procedure Act 2011, the Supreme Court's decision does not affect the quashing of the driver's conviction.