Hamilton City Council's attempt to ban street prostitution might be illegal

Hamilton City Council is trying to renew a bylaw that may be illegal - a ban on street prostitution that threatens a $20,000 fine.

The Prostitutes Collective (NZPC) is dead against it, and even the council admits it's on shaky legal ground. But Hamilton streets are now out of bounds for sex workers, and the council wants to keep it that way

"This bylaw is about the users, the public, the industry, and the perception of the city Hamilton," said Hamilton Mayor Andrew King.

Hamilton City Council unanimously voted last month to renew a 10-year-old bylaw which bans soliciting for sex on the street - a topic unfamiliar for some councillors.

"You go up to a person and say 'you want a bit' or whatever it is... I'm not good at this stuff," said Councillor Garry Mallett.

But critics say the ban is illegal, and recriminalises sex workers.

"We're concerned about that bylaw for two reasons - first it's harmful and stigmatising, and the second is that it's illegal," said NZPC Law and Policy Advisor Bridie Sweetman.

Parliament decriminalised prostitution in 2003, and sex workers say a ban on street workers is like turning back the clock.

"We're in 2019 and Hamilton City Council thinks it can override this and issue $20,000 fines to sex workers," said sex worker Lisa Lewis.

Two attempts by Manukau City Council to ban street prostitution in 2007 and 2012 failed. The Hamilton Mayor admits that exposes his council to legal risk

"What is the council's legal advice on this matter? The legal advice is one side of this, the legal advice has identified risk," said Mayor King.

In the last 10 years of the bylaw being in place, there have been two complaints about soliciting for sex on the streets in Hamilton.

The council couldn't prove that solicitation had taken place and neither led to prosecutions. Sweetman says Hamilton's ban is politically motivated

"So councillors are making a decision to remain popular with constituents rather than acting responsibly."

The bylaw is open to public consultation for another two weeks.