A Bay of Islands dog lobby group has a legal opinion claiming the Far North District Council has allowed its dog control bylaw to lapse, meaning there are currently no regulations at all governing dogs in the district, and that recent prosecutions could be invalid.
The council disagrees, citing legal advice of its own that the 2006 bylaw still stands, and its current bylaw review was launched within the legal time frame.
Bay of Islands Watchdogs sought an 11th hour legal opinion from Wellington law firm ChenPalmer ahead of last Thursday's bylaw deliberations. Among other things, it wanted to know if the current process could legally be deemed a review of the council's 2006 dog control bylaw.
Council documents state bylaws have to be reviewed every 10 years. The current review began in 2016, but ChenPalmer special counsel Leo Donnelly said any new bylaw created under the Local Government Act had to be reviewed after five years, and every 10 years after that. A new bylaw not reviewed within five years would lapse once another two years had passed.
That meant the current bylaw, made by special order in 2006, had been revoked on September 18, 2013, and prosecutions since then could be unlawful. Even in the best case the current bylaw had been revoked on September 18 this year, 12 years since it was passed.
Mr Donnelly said the council had made a "fundamental administrative flaw", albeit unintentionally, and was misleading the public about the process currently under way.
The council wasn't reviewing its 2006 bylaw, but was actually consulting on a new bylaw.
"In these circumstances, a fresh consultation process under section 82 of the Local Government Act should take place."
Watchdogs spokeswoman Leonie Exel, of Russell, said a bylaw adopted by the council could be challenged by judicial review.
"But what we're really trying to say to the council is, stop what you're doing, think, get external legal advice, and get this right," she said.
The ChenPalmer opinion had been paid for by crowdfunding from its members, but a judicial review would cost a lot more, she added.
Mayor John Carter, however, said the council had sought its own advice, from law firm Simpson Grierson, which said the 2006 bylaw had to be reviewed after 10 years.
That time frame had been met when the council resolved to review the bylaw on June 15, 2016.
Public consultation began in November 2016, and final deliberations were now under way.
"Until the new, amended bylaw is adopted, the 2006 bylaw remains in force. Independent legal advice confirms this position," Mr Carter said.
The original bylaw was adopted in 1997. Meanwhile, councillors will continue their deliberations of the record 1215 submissions on November 27, and are due to put the bylaw to the vote on December 13.
The Watchdogs also claim the council does not have authority to pass bylaws to protect wildlife. That, according to ChenPalmer, was the role of the Minister of Conservation under the Wildlife Act 1953.