Now for the latest news.
Nineteen months ago, in the company of two others, I had another reason to seek an audience with the Commissioner of Police. The issue on that occasion was far more serious than what I am about to report on but it ended with the same sense of frustration and concern that the ‘rule of law’, if it exists at all, exists selectively in the lexicon of our police force.
Then it was the unlawful lockdown of Parliament by the Speaker and the Clerk, which I wrote about in June 2016. This time it was the far more mundane question of dog registration and obedience to the legislation governing that activity – but no less important than the principle that either we follow the law or we don’t.
At approximately 3pm on Friday, February 2, I fronted up to the public desk at the Police Station and asked to see the dog register.
S.6(1) of the Dogs Registration Act 1986 provides that ‘the Registrar shall cause to be kept a register of dogs’. (Registrar means Commissioner of Police – see S.2)
S.6(2) ‘The register shall show the following information’ – thereafter follows details like names, addresses, description, age, sex or neutered, marks or other identification, and the registration number of the disc issued for that dog.
S.6(3) ‘The register may be examined by any person during office hours free of charge.’
I am ‘any person’ and 3pm was ‘office hours’ and I was there to examine the register.
My reasons were threefold. Firstly, I wanted to establish that there was indeed a register.
Secondly, that it was available for examination as the law intended, and lastly that our two farm dogs and my daughter’s two dogs were in the register.
The point in that last purpose was that as none had a disc they were either never registered or the discs had been lost or stolen. My daughter recalls registering hers and I believe my wife may have registered the farm dogs, but she is in no position to remember – so how else is one to avoid an unnecessary further payment (because I am of the firm view that it is a once-only payment) if one cannot examine the register?
From the public desk I was directed to the driver’s licence section which doubled as a dog registration section. The lady there, pleasant at first, thought I was there to register my dogs. No, I said my purpose was to examine the register. Could I see it please? I was told there was no such thing as a physical register – it was all electronic and in her computer. Then can I examine the register please on the computer? No. Then you are refusing me my right provided in the legislation to examine the register? A belligerent yes.
Back to the public desk. I would like to see the Commissioner and I explained why. Backroom consultations. The Commissioner was in a meeting. Acting Superintendent John Strickland would see me – but he was in a meeting too. (Same strategy meeting on how to deal with this nuisance is my guess.)
Twenty minutes cooling my heels and then I was ushered into Mr Strickland’s office. On the way I saw the Commissioner – obviously freed of any meeting – with a broom in his hands, the irony of which will not be lost on the discerning reader. He saw me so clearly he could have met with me if he had been so inclined and being the legally appointed registrar was actually the appropriate person.
Mr Strickland was pleasant but was unable to produce any register. He phoned and reprimanded the person I had dealt with earlier; established that the electronic record only went back to 2003; and instructed that a typical page from it be printed off and brought to him for me to see.
It never was, but regardless it would not have served any purpose other than to establish the format employed. Mr Strickland had some recollection of some physical records but was vague as to their whereabouts.
I stressed that if my interpretation of the law was correct, and dog registration was now a one-off event, then there would be others like me with no identification discs needing to check the register. The Police, in being unable to produce one, were failing in their legal duty, all the while demanding payment without any means for people to check the legitimacy of their demands.
According to Google, dogs have an average life span of 11-13 years, so if the officially discoverable record only goes back to 2003 the chances are it would capture nearly everyone who needs to clarify the status of their dog. But how are they to do that?
What I would suggest is that it would be prudent for the Police to refrain from any further threats and demands and bring their practice in line with their responsibilities in administering this legislation.
This would entail converting the electronic record into a physical form and announcing its availability for public inspection (or have the computer version available) and giving a reasonable period for dog owners to do the right thing.
The heavy-handed, autocratic approach we have witnessed in recent times just lends weight to the perception that the Police can do as they please and that the present Cook Islands Party administration is quite comfortable with that.
John M Scott