A Barrister's Blog

The lighter side of law


Conditions of entry


Posted on Feb 24, 2017

As many readers of this blog will know, day 2 of the Sydney (cricket) test in January each year is “Richie Day”. I have since discovered that the Richie’s have their own website with details of what you have to do if you want to be one. There is even a Richie’s code of conduct that must be abided by.

I was at the SCG on Richie Day this year. The Richies had 3 trumpeters amongst them. It was quite amusing when Nathan Lyon’s new spell was heralded with a rendition of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” (the Tokens 1961, wimoweh etc etc). However, I did wonder how could it be that an environment so hostile to the beach ball could be trumpet friendly.

The answer is in the Cricket Australia conditions of entry which prohibit the bringing in of any “stadium horn (including without limitation, a vuvuzela or caxirola), loud hailer or similar device“, but is silent on other instruments. Interestingly the corresponding conditions for the Waratahs and the AFL both provide that prior written consent is required to “bring into the Venue any musical instruments“. The A League doesn’t say anything about musical instruments, but does ban skateboards and rollerblades (which are not mentioned for the other sports). So, trumpets (but not horns) are allowed at the cricket but not at the football.

The following general condition of entry applicable to all events brought a civil liability smile: “Patrons should be aware that sporting equipment such as footballs or cricket balls may be kicked or struck from the playing field into the seating areas during events. Patrons are advised this can occur at any time“.

Acknowledgment for the photograph: http://www.therichies.com.au/

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The Physicist Judge


Posted on Jan 31, 2017

What do cannabis sativa, viagra, carcinogens and epidemiology, the BRCA1 polypeptide, and a Norwegian roll-on/roll-off container ship have in common? This was the question posed by Justice Michelle Gordon in a recent paper she delivered at the University of Western Australia. The answer is (of course) (now former) Chief Justice Robert French, whose successor, Susan Kiefel was sworn in yesterday.

French (like me) has qualifications in both science and law and he told the following blogworthy anecdote about his early legal career in a paper he gave in 2011:

“Nearly 40 years ago, as a newly minted lawyer who happened to have a science degree with a physics major, I was keen to take on cases which involved scientific questions. One such case concerned a young man riding a motor bike who was clocked at twice the speed limit by a radar gun. He insisted that he had only been travelling at the speed limit. The radar gun works by transmitting a radar beam at a certain frequency. When that beam hits a moving object it is reflected back and its frequency shifts upwards. This is called the Doppler Effect. The radar gun combines the reflected signal with the outgoing signal to produce a resultant frequency called the ‘beat frequency’ which is a function of velocity. According to that beat frequency, the gun produces a readout of speed.

I remembered from my basic physics that the speed of a wheel at the top is twice the speed at the axle. So if the motor bike were travelling at a speed ‘V’, the spokes at the top of the wheel would be travelling at the speed 2V relative to an external observer. Could this be the explanation for the disputed reading? Had some of the reflected beam come off spokes travelling at twice the speed limit even though the bike itself was travelling within the law? Could my client have been telling the truth? I engaged the services of a PhD student. We brought to court a bicycle wheel, a radio frequency generator and a couple of oscilloscopes. The magistrate was transfixed by the evidence. However, he didn’t know very much about physics. In the end he said he would rely upon the policeman’s personal estimate of the speed and convicted my client. He was probably right to do so.”

Creative commons acknowledgment for the photograph

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Avunculus Bob


Posted on Dec 20, 2016

I have previously blogged about David Ross QC and his quirky personal court book which became a textbook, “Ross on Crime” (now in its 7th edition). Amongst many other blogworthy features, the book has an appendix of latin terms, which I first came across quite by accident. In amongst the entries I found the following:

res gesta

res ipsa loquitur (the thing speaks for itself)

res judicata

Robertus avunculus tuus est (Bob’s your uncle)….what!?….

After I got over the initial surprise it caused me to have a quiet chuckle and to make a note to self to turn it into this entry on my blog. I have since done a bit more research on David Ross and discovered that he played didgeridoo, trombone and sousaphone. He was also a keen canoeist and educator and is also the author of an advocacy textbook. Apparently he also loved his latin and he arranged for a sign with “Robertus avumculus tuus est” to be placed on the wall outside his room in John Starke Chambers. Ross QC died on Christmas Eve in 2009. An abridged version of his eulogy is online and makes good holiday reading about an interesting and diverse life in the law.

Creative commons acknowledgment for the photograph.

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The Conjunction


Posted on Nov 25, 2016

obsceneThe meaning of simple words such as “and” and “or” (or shorter/longer) is not always as clear cut as you might at first think.

The 30 May 1956 edition of People magazine included an article entitled “Love in the South Seas”. The article was almost exclusively concerned with the sexual habits of Polynesians in their native islands, who apparently compared with Westerners were abnormally oversexed. The article was found to be obscene under Victorian law at the time. More details about the article appear in the judgment of the Victorian Supreme Court. Associated Newspapers sought special leave to appeal to the High Court (see Associated Newspapers v Wavish) .

The argument was about the construction of section 169 of the Police Offences Act 1928-1954  (Vict.) which provided:

(1) In this Part—obscene’ (without limiting the generality of the meaning thereof) includes

(a) tending to deprave and corrupt persons whose minds are open to immoral influences; and

(b) unduly emphasizing matters of sex, crimes of violence, gross cruelty or horror.

Dixon CJ found that: “In relation to the definition of the word obscene’ in s. 169 (1), we are of opinion that the word and” does not mean that what is stated in pars. (a) and (b) provides cumulative conditions which must be both fulfilled before an article” can fall within that definition. It is enough if the article has the tendency described in (a) or has the undue emphasis described in (b).”

So, was the article obscene? Dixon CJ said: “In this particular case four members of the Court have read the article carefully and are of opinion that it is clearly within the definition of obscene”. For myself, I have not read the article through but I have seen sufficient of it to leave me with no doubt that their Honours are entirely right in the view they have taken.” So there – application refused!

Creative commons acknowledgement for the photograph (which is not obscene – it’s a clothes hook).

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Criminal Mooning


Posted on Oct 24, 2016

mooning-gnome

Victoria has recently had a major overhaul of its laws dealing with sexual offences. One of the purposes was to try and differentiate between more serious sexual offences (such as “flashing” which is now “sexual exposure”) and the less serious “offensive or indecent behaviour”.

It was always an offence under s17(1)(d) of the Summary Offences Act 1966 (Vic) to behave in a riotous indecent or offensive manner. However, one of the amendments made by the Crimes Amendment (Sexual Offences) Act 2016 is to introduce the new section (1A) which provides:

“For the purposes of subsection (1)(d), behaviour that is indecent offensive or insulting includes behaviour that involves a person exposing (to any extent) the person’s anal or genital region.

Example

Mooning or streaking”

 [No, its not a typo – these examples appear in the legislation].

The penalty for a first offence is a maximum of $1550 or 2 months in jail. So, there you have it, the quintessential sign of disrespect (thinking Braveheart) is now a crime in Victoria.

Before I leave section 17, I also note that it is also an offence to sing an obscene song or ballad in or near a public place within hearing of any person being or passing therein. It appears this is also an offence in SA and the NT but not in other states. Thankfully, the Ball of Kerrymuir (only google it, if you’re not easily offended) can still be sung with impunity in Sydney.

Creative commons acknowledgement for the photograph.

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Emu Wars


Posted on Sep 30, 2016

emuIn November 1932, the Commonwealth government received (and acceded to) a peculiar request for assistance from WA wheat farmers whose crops were being damaged by emus. A succinct summary is in the speech by Senator Sir George Pearce given on 18 November 1932 (see Hansard at 2570):

It was explained to me that the use of rifles for the extinction of the birds was quite ineffective, because only one or two birds could be shot before the remainder scattered far and wide. Ordinary fences such as keep out dingoes and kangaroos offer no obstacle to emus, for the birds take them in their stride, or knock them down, and thus let the rabbits into the crops.

I was asked to allow machine guns [yes – machine guns!] belonging to the Defence Department to be used for the destruction of the birds, the farmers undertaking to pay for the necessary ammunition…..I ultimately agreed to allow three members of the permanent military personnel to go into this district with the guns, on the State Government undertaking to give them their railway fares and pay for the ammunition used.”

The so-called “emu war”, perhaps unsurprisingly, attracted criticism in the press and wasn’t very successful in reducing emu numbers. The military were quickly withdrawn. Some of the quotable quotes from the time included:

  1. Comments by ornithologist Dominic Serventy: “The machine-gunners’ dreams of point blank fire into serried masses of Emus were soon dissipated. The Emu command had evidently ordered guerrilla tactics, and its unwieldy army soon split up into innumerable small units that made use of the military equipment uneconomic. A crestfallen field force therefore withdrew from the combat area after about a month”; and
  2. After the withdrawal, Major Meredith compared the emus to Zulus and commented on the striking manoeuvrability of the emus, even while badly wounded: “If we had a military division with the bullet-carrying capacity of these birds it would face any army in the world… They can face machine guns with the invulnerability of tanks. They are like Zulus whom even dum-dum bullets could not stop.

If you want to know more about this bizarre history have a look at the Wikipedia entry or the academic article “Feathered foes: soldier settlers and Western Australia’s ‘Emu War’ of 1932” (2006) Journal of Australian Studies (88): 147-157.

.it must have seemed a good idea at the time!

Creative commons acknowledgment for the photograph.

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