Laws are a reflection of society: of public interests and community behaviour. For example, the NSW ‘one-punch law’, which is a new offence targeted at a person who injures someone in what is colloquially known as the ‘king-hit’, is a great example of when a law is imposed to respond to community behaviour and public interest. So, it’s understood that laws that existed a long time ago provide a window into historical community attitudes of the time. Of course contexts can change, but laws don’t always get repealed at the same pace. An examination of the laws around the world today provides a humorous insight into the past of the place where they apply.
But first – a little glimpse of some of Australia’s own bizarre laws.
In the state of NSW, bus driver’s have to take extra precaution not to splash a passenger or pedestrian waiting for a bus stop with mud. That’s right; under Road Rules NSW 2008, a driver must take care not to splash with mud a passenger getting on or off a bus or riding on the bus. A driver must also take care not splash mud on someone waiting at the bus stop – this is in fact unlawful. Now, the truly ridiculous part of the law is that if a driver splashed water on a passenger or pedestrian waiting for a bus, this would not be a breach of the law. Whether a passenger would go to the effort of filing such a complaint against a bus driver remains to be seen: perhaps it depends on the extent of the mud stain?!
Throwing your 5 cent coin into a public fountain could cost you more than you wished for. In NSW, it is still an offence if a person wilfully damages, defaces or enters upon a fountain erected in public. It is also an offence to cause any foreign material or substance to enter into any part of a fountain erected in a public place (s7 Summary offences Act (NSW)). The possible penalty is a maximum fine of $440. So, perhaps you may think twice when you choose to sit on a public fountain or dip your feet into it…
Around the world
Samoa: For many husbands, forgetting your wife’s birthday feels like you have committed a crime. You would certainly be punished in the home for it. However, in Samoa, forgetting your wife’s birthday is in fact a crime and if found convicted of this crime a person can be sent to jail.
Hawaii: The islands of relaxation, tourism, sun, surf and sand. And yet, apparently, it is against the law to be seen in public wearing only swimming trunks. This law may be a little tricky to police these days seeing as almost everyone in the beach areas of Hawaii are seen in public in their bathing suits. Another strange law which does not seem to fit with the ethos of Hawaii is that it is illegal to sing after sunset. It is interesting to consider what was happening in Hawaii at the time this law was enacted, for the Government to feel there was such a need for it.
United Arab Emirates: Thinking of a honeymoon? Want somewhere romantic where you can cuddle up to your new spouse? You may want to think twice if you are considering the United Arab Emirates as a destination. In this country, public displays of affection are unlawful and the government strictly adheres to this law: there’s no exception for tourists. Couples caught up in the moment of romance may later be caught by police – and the punishment is jail.
Alabama: Bear wrestling and indeed any bear wrestling-related activities such as training a bear to wrestle or charging an admission price for such an activity is illegal in the state of Alabama in the United States of America.
Whether they’re unusual because of society’s current standards or because they reflect the unique characteristics of another country, there are plenty of strange laws to be found in constitutions all over the world. Who said reading a ‘summary of offences’ had to be boring?