'That's a disgrace': MPs, Police Commissioner in fiery clash over COVID-19 community roadblocks

The Epidemic Response Committee meeting has produced several fiery moments on Thursday, as the Police Commissioner and MPs clashed over COVID-19 community roadblocks.

The roadblocks have been the subject of much debate in recent weeks, with Kiwis reporting being intimidated, harassed and illegally detained at them.

Last week, Andrew Coster announced that every community roadblock would now require police presence - but it's become clear not everyone is abiding by those rules.

Some rural Northland communities have blocked beach access roads, police told Newshub on Wednesday, despite travel to the beach being allowed under the alert level 3 restrictions.

On Thursday, Coster was bombarded with tough questions from the committee, as the likes of Opposition leader Simon Bridges, National MP Mark Mitchell and ACT Party leader David Seymour weighed in on the new regulations and whether they were being enforced.

Mitchell was the most forceful of the three, and his question on whether Coster had been pressured to take a softer approach to enforcing roadblock rules drew derision from Labour MP Ruth Dyson.

"Outrageous - that's a disgrace, Mark," she said after Mitchell requested the names of those within the Government who had advised Coster on the issue.

"That's a disgraceful line of questioning to the Police Commissioner, and I would've thought better of you, given your past," Dyson added, referencing his 14-year stint in the police force.

Coster said he'd had "absolutely no influence" from the Government about how to enforce the roadblock issue, and any conversations with MPs had been of his own volition.

"The only minister I have spoken to is the Minister of Police [Stuart Nash], and that was me proactively briefing him… At no time has he given me a direction or even suggested a path of travel for these," he said.

Coster said the issue of beach access roadblocks in Northland was not "in the same category" as other community checkpoints at which Kiwis had been intimidated.

Earlier, Coster explained to committee chair Simon Bridges that the number of checkpoints had fallen dramatically from "roughly 30 to 50" during alert level 4 to "10 or fewer" since alert level 3 came into effect. He expected them to stop operating entirely before New Zealand moved to alert level 2.

But Bridges urged him to "cut to the chase" and consider the legality of the roadblocks.

"There's no scenario - this is law school 101 - in which a Kiwi is acting anything but unlawfully by stopping another Kiwi on a road in New Zealand," he said.

Coster said if the roadblock operators were abiding by the regulations and had police presence, then there is "nothing unlawful" about it.

"I don't see that the issue here is so much a black and white situation… What we've had here are communities who are incredibly concerned for their wellbeing and with good intent trying to support the controls that have been put in place."

"But intention doesn't make any difference over whether it's lawful, does it," Bridges retorted.

"It's one thing to turn a blind eye… but it's entirely another thing to do what your offices have done, which is to come along and condone this unlawful activity by standing alongside those who have taken the law into their own hands."

But a bristling Coster denied those accusations, and defended the police force's 'education first' approach on checkpoints as one that got rural regions on board, rather than an enforcement approach which he claims would've caused "tens of protests" around the country.

Later David Seymour questioned the Police Commissioner on when police would enforce the closure of community roadblocks. After Coster told him it would be at level 2, Seymour said "some people would say it should've been earlier, but that's reassuring".