Am I legally allowed to sneak a peek at my friend’s / brother’s / sister’s / son’s or daughter’s / partner’s / person sitting next to me on the train’s Facebook page or text messages?

 

This is absolutely a true story that has an admittedly weak connection with the question in the title to this post. Still, I like to tell it, so please indulge me once again as I try and explain complex legal issues using my own personal life.

 

I once met a beautiful woman, who was later to become my wife, when we were at work. We worked for the same law firm, on the same floor, in offices that were almost next to each other. Despite what she will tell you, I DID notice her first, when we were in a group training session. I thought to myself ‘Wow, that woman is smart, funny, beautiful and is hopefully very understanding when it comes to her life partner sharing personal stories, in a public setting, about how she met her husband. There is no way she can be single’.

 

I was quickly smitten, and had to know whether she was single or not. At the time, social media was still very much in its early days. I do not believe I even had a Facebook account at the time, and a quick Google search on her name did not come up with anything. Well, the searches I ran did come up with women with her name, but I quickly established that none of them was the woman I was interested in.

 

I am not proud of this, but in the absence of being able to find out information about her online, like a gentleman, I resorted to sneaking into her office at work one evening, when she was away from her desk, to try and see if there were any personal items that might answer my question on her relationship status.

 

Sadly, I saw she had some photographs stuck to her wall, which included her standing next to a handsome young man, both smiling and looking happy. Deciding that it had to be her boyfriend, I accepted that, once again, I had been bested by another man, and hung my head in shame.

 

The end to this romantic tale was that my wife was not seeing the gentleman in the photograph after all; she was single, and prepared to put up with me for the rest of her life (or until she reads this).

 

But my actions could have been taken as stalking, or at least an invasion of her privacy, if my wife decided to make an issue of it at the time. As she probably should have, and perhaps wishes she now did. Things may have been even more serious for me, and more concerning or embarrassing for her, if I was able to log on to her computer and read her emails, or look up her Facebook page. I am not saying I would have, but then again, I am not saying I would NOT have. Look, she is hot and I wanted to find out if she was single!

 

Yes, I appreciate the hypocrisy of me writing an entire post on judging people for invading another person’s privacy, when I have just admitted to being likely to do it if the opportunity arose. No, I do not appreciate your judgment of me.

 

Now that we have that little personal anecdote out of the way, we can get to the real question at hand: is it illegal to log onto someone’s Facebook (or other social media) page, or to log into their emails and read them, or do other similar activities to learn more about that person, or steal their information or personal details?

 

Disturbing as it is, we as individuals do not have a legal right to privacy in Australia. ‘Stop lying’, I hear you say, ‘of course we have a right to privacy. That is what all those privacy policies are on the websites I visit’.

 

Well, yes, there are privacy laws in Australia, but these do not give us a right as individuals to maintain our privacy. What these laws mainly do is tell companies that collect our personal information how they must keep that information and when they can use it.

 

That means that if I did log onto my wife’s Facebook page, or went through her emails, when we first met, and snooped around for a while trying to find out if she was single or not, she could not charge me with breach of privacy. Not that she would, because she is a lovely and forgiving person, who could have had me fired by telling our bosses what I had done.

 

If I had, however, logged onto my wife’s computer and used her Facebook page, or email, or internet browser to steal her identity, or to pretend to be her for the purpose of committing a crime, then I would be in deep legal poo.

 

Every State and Territory, and our national Commonwealth laws, all make identity theft a criminal act, either through specific laws dealing with this, or through the way they apply their general criminal laws. Regardless of what the name of the law is, the result is the same – if you assume someone’s identity, or misuse someone’s personal information, for the purpose of committing a crime, then you can be charged with identity theft.

 

These types of crimes are almost always about one person stealing someone else’s identity to get access to their money or credit cards. However, I guess I could still be charged with identity theft if I misused my wife’s personal information for the purpose of stalking her. Stalking is a criminal offence, so this might have fallen under the identity theft laws if my actions went beyond ‘just’ looking through her emails to see if she had a boyfriend.

 

If you are a victim of someone logging into your personal accounts, then the obvious steps are to change your password and let the website’s owners know about it. I know, that kind of stuff is a pain, but it is even more of a pain to try and restore your credit rating or your good name if someone starts using your social media accounts to send out horrible messages, or gains access to your bank accounts.

 

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Is it legal to marry your cousin?

 

What an interesting question for this Wednesday afternoon. There is nothing like the feeling of outrage, judgment and – let’s be honest here – genuine interest that arises in people when you start to talk about physical and spiritual relationships between family members, regardless of how distant their respective branches of the big old family tree might be.

 

Our cat does not have this problem. Her father is also her brother and, we think, probably also her grandfather and cousin as well, and neither the law nor the cat seem to have any issue with this.

 

With us humans, though, it is a different story. In Australian society, and under Australian law, we have drawn a very clear line around what you can and cannot do with your family members, including your cousin, when it comes to things like marriage and the typical consequence of marriage – children.

 

There is a degree of religious undertone to the law in this area as well, as you would expect from anything dealing with marriage. Of course, the law in Australia is not so explicit as to say things like ‘you cannot marry your cousin because the Lord does not approve of such shenanigans’. However, our law does say that marriage is a union ‘between a man and a woman’ (at least, at the time I’m writing this), and that certain unions between two people, whether physical or emotional, are illegal. Much of the justification for these current laws is religious based. I will hold off on giving my thoughts on this subject, at least in this forum.

 

There is also a medical aspect to this area of law. It is clear from science, and by just looking at the history of the British royal family, that the closer two people are genetically the more chance they have of their crappy recessive genes being passed on to their child. This can and often does result in birth defects, both physical and mental, and ongoing health issues.

 

You can make all the arguments you like about how people should be free to love and marry whomever they chose. I completely agree. But I also accept that, religious and moral aspects aside, the law does need to say that certain unions are prohibited where there is clear evidence that such a union can have very significant and negative results for a child born of that union.

 

But enough moralising. If you have read this far you want to know whether, legally, you can you marry your cousin.

 

The answer, in all States and Territories of Australia, is a clear ‘yes’. Under Australia’s marriage laws you can marry anyone in your extended family, so long as that the person is not:

 

  • your ‘ancestor’ (parent, grandparent and so on), or your ‘descendent’ (child, grandchild, great-grandchild – you get the picture); or
  • your brother or your sister (whether of the ‘whole blood’ or the ‘half-blood’ – what a lovely way of thinking about your bro or sis).

 

But before you go out and speak to your aunt and uncle about the dowry for their little prince or princess, you should also keep in mind a few fundamental legal no-no’s when it comes to marriage.

 

You can’t get married if:

 

  • each person is of the same sex, at least for now (hopefully one day I will be able to remove this restriction from this list);
  • either of the people getting married is, at the time of the marriage, lawfully married to some other person – this means that you cannot have multiple husbands or wives at the same time, and you cannot marry your pets or a really good looking plant;
  • one party has not consented to be married, or has given consent but it is not REALLY consent because you (or someone else) have forced your partner to enter into the marriage;
  • the other person consented to the marriage but, through your deception, believed you to be someone else (the ‘evil twin’ situation, which I am sure happens all the time);
  • your partner does not have the mental capacity to understand the nature and effect of the marriage ceremony;
  • either of you is 16 or older, but under 18, and does not have parental consent to the marriage; or
  • either of you is under 16.

 

As long as you do not fall foul of any of the above restrictions on marriage AND you’re not marrying your ‘descendent’, your ‘ancestor’ or your brother or sister (or half-brother or half-sister) you are free to marry whoever you like, including you cousin. Have fun, hope your wedding is wonderful and your cousin/wife or cousin/husband makes you very happy.

 

Weirdo.

 

Which are better, cats or dogs?

 

Dogs.

 

I meant, legally speaking.

 

Oh. That is a bit harder to answer.

 

It all depends on what you mean by ‘better’, in legal terms. One test could be: which is the deadlier animal and hence subject to greater legal control?

 

There are only a small number of cat breeds that are illegal to import and sell in Australia. These are pretty much any hybrid kitty (a little cat bred with a big cat like, say, a TIGER!), including but (as lawyers love to write) not limited to:

 

  • the Savannah cat, which is a domestic cat crossed with serval cat;

 

  • the Safari cat, which is a domestic cat crossed with a Geoffroy cat (these guys are bad ass); and

 

  • the Chausie, which is a domestic cat crossed with a jungle cat (leopardcat!).

 

A Bengal cat, which is a domestic cat crossed with an Asian leopard cat, can be imported so long as there is at least a five generation gap between the kitty and its ferocious, man-eating leopard great-great-great-great-grandparent.

 

The list of banned dogs, on the other paw, is much larger and wide-ranging. Mainly because dogs are bigger, stronger and less lazy, compared to cats. Dogs have also, in times past, been bred and trained specifically to kill other animals or infidels, and it tends to be these breeds that our animal control laws will never allow anyone to own, breed or sell.

 

This means that all wolf-dog cross breeds are banned, as are breeds that I have never heard of, including the Dogo Argentino, the Fila Brasileiro, the Japanese Tosa, the Pit Bull Terrier or the American Pit Bull, the Perro de Presa Canario or the Presa Canario.

 

Also, most States and Territories have laws that allow for any breed of dog, even the most stupid dog of all – the Pekinese – to be declared dangerous. If a breed is declared a dangerous dog, a whole bunch of additional laws and regulations kick in and put a leash on your right to let you dog do, effectively, what it likes. If you own a dangerous dog, you are required to take additional steps to ensure your dog remains under control and cannot harm the public. This includes the use of muzzles and special collars that state that the dog is dangerous.

 

Therefore, if we look at things from the perspective of which animal is regarded by the law as more dangerous and has the greater potential to harm the public, then dogs are treated more harshly by the laws of Australia.

 

I guess this makes cats the winner, using this test. Stupid cats.

 

But wait, all is not lost for dogs. They get the benefit of several laws that allow them to access places that no other animal in Australia can. Well, certain types of dogs do anyway. Yes, I am referring to guide dogs, or seeing eye dogs. I am not quite sure on the politically correct description, sorry.

 

I do not want to trivialise this issue, I assure you. My aim here is not to make fun of those who require the services of a guide dog. Rather, it is to recognise that our laws are successful in making life somewhat more comfortable and safe for those that require the use of a guide dog, by making it illegal to deny someone access to a building or service simply on the basis that they require a guide dog.

 

That means that a supermarket can have a store policy that bans all animals from coming into the store, but it cannot enforce this policy if to do so would discriminate against someone using a guide dog. If the supermarket did this, it could be in breach of our anti-discrimination laws, at both a State and Territory level, and at a national level.

 

Those that use guide dogs are also allowed to use their dog in public spaces and on public transport, with these rights protected by law.

 

It is even possible for guide dogs to accompany their human companion on planes, and having seen this in real life I can confirm that guide dogs are much better behaved than most passengers and never recline their seat violently during mealtimes.

 

For contributing to a reduction in discrimination, and protecting and enabling those that have sight or hearing impairment, dogs win.

 

Sadly, however, if we answer this question by working out how many laws in total prevent dogs doing what they want (take over the world), versus laws that prevent cats doing whatever they want (sleeping), then dogs are the biggest loser.

 

Looking at just the main pieces of law that regulate dog and cat ownership in the States and Territories, I count that there are:

 

  • 695 laws that regulate dog ownership and dog behaviour; versus
  • 44 laws that regulate cat ownership and cat behaviour.

 

Yes, this was a fun Thursday evening activity. No, I do not have any friends.

 

I love maths, so so much, so I cannot help but convert that to percentage terms. My analysis concludes (how sciencey do I sound right now? Hot, huh?) that 94% of pet laws regulate dogs, while only 6% regulate cats. Even if my numbers are out, and let’s say it is an 80/20 weighting, that is still a very bad result for doggies.

 

And there are 2 States that have laws that apply JUST to dogs – Western Australia and Tasmania. Dogs are, it seems, right to be barking mad about the vast number of laws that apply to them, compared to kitties.

 

Ultimately, I think the law favours cats. Just like our professional Rugby League players, cats are stupid, arrogant, smelly, and often poo in the wrong spot in the house, but they are well protected from a legal point of view and sometimes it seems that the law just does not apply to them.

 

 

The Law of Melbourne Cup Office Sweeps – Sorry to be a Nag

 

Australians love a good gamble, and why not? Supposedly we are the lucky country, and everyone who gambles always believes they are due a big win.

 

This fun-loving, family-destroying attitude all comes to a head on Melbourne Cup Day, with workplaces everywhere organising office sweeps. For one glorious, day-drinking Tuesday, almost every office and workplace in Australia becomes its own little gambling den, and for the most part the usual stern and uncompromising laws that severely restrict when and how we gamble choose to turn a blind eye to the legality, or otherwise, of the office sweep.

 

I want to be clear. I hate gambling, particularly on live animal races, but I am not discouraging office sweeps on Melbourne Cup Day. I have been part of an office sweep myself. My objection is to horse racing itself, as I feel it involves whipping animals more than I think is reasonable. What is a reasonable amount of whipping, you ask? How about zero whipping? How about for every time a jockey whips his or her horse, he or she has to whip him or herself as well, just as hard? If that was a rule of horse racing, it might make me soften my views. But enough of my ranting, let’s find out how and where we can legally bet on the Big Race.

 

Sorry, just one more thing before we start, but I promise this is a relevant fact this time. There is more than one type of sweep, just like there is more than one inhumane form of sport that only serves the purpose of encouraging gambling. The sweep I am familiar with is where you put in a fixed amount of cash, say $2, and get a ticket for a horse in the race, which is drawn at random. Typically, if your horse get first, second, third or last place, you get a share of the total cash for that sweep. So easy, even I almost understand it.

 

There is also another type of sweep, which I had not heard of before I wrote this section, called a ‘Calcutta Sweep’. This is a slightly racist sounding sweep, where each person playing in the sweep puts in an initial minimum amount to participate. Then, an auction takes place for the various horseys amongst those participating, with each ticket for each horse going to the highest bidder. Wow, gambling is so complex! But if this sounds like fun, please do not get too excited. A Calcutta Sweep requires your work to get a gambling licence before it can run one, so it is probably not worth your time for Melbourne Cup Day.

 

The next thing to be aware of is that each State and Territory has its own rules around running a sweep, whether at the office, at home, or in some back alley. The same rules apply to pretty much all other types of ‘fun’ gambling that might take place in an office, at a club, or at a sports group, like raffles and even the humble game of Bingo.

 

Firstly, if you live in Queensland, Tasmania or the Northern Territory, then you might as well stop reading after this paragraph. Unless your workplace gets approved by the relevant gambling authority in those States (or Territory), you cannot hold any type of sweep in the office, or anywhere else, at any time, even on Melbourne Cup Day. Your office would first need to be approved as an ‘association’, as only associations can hold sweeps. Getting that approval means making an application, paying fees, playing by the rules and so on. That process takes all the fun out of the office sweeps process, which is, I suppose, meant to be a spontaneous, fun, relaxed way of bonding as a workplace on Melbourne Cup Day.

 

The laws on sweeps in Western Australia are straightforward enough, as far as these things go. Small private lotteries, where tickets are sold people at the same workplace, and where value of the prize pool is not more than $2,000 (where the lottery and the draw take place on the same day, like Melbourne Cup Day), do not require a licence. So sweep away, West Australians, legally and happily. Just keep the maximum amount that can be won under each sweep to no more than $2,000.

 

South Australia is pretty similar to Western Australia. Again, the total amount that can be won in the sweep cannot exceed $2,000. So long as you stay within this limit, an office sweep in South Australia can be held legally and without any licences or authorisations being required.

 

In our nation’s capital (that’s the Australian Capital Territory, in case you were wondering), a permit is not required where the total prize value of the sweep does not exceed $2,500, however your workplace has to comply with a bunch of fairly straightforward rules, like conducting the sweep openly and fairly. So long as the sweep is not rigged (like the US election, am I right, Mr Trump?), and the prize pool is not more than $2,500, you can have a go on Melbourne Cup Day.

 

New South Wales is much less frugal than the other States and Territories when it comes to prize money for sweeps. You can have an office sweep with a maximum prize pool of up to $20,000 before you need to get a licence. However, you can’t just hold sweeps willy-nilly, on any old thing. An office sweep is only permitted for ‘approved events’, which includes the Melbourne Cup. Just to give you an idea of what people in New South Wales given the same status as the Melbourne Cup, there are around 50 other approved events, including the Bathurst 1,000, a bunch of horse and dog races, and my personal favourite and the highlight of my social calendar each year: the Armidale Snail Races (conducted by the Armidale Branch of the Challenge Foundation of New South Wales, in case you were interested). Hopefully there is no whipping of snails. If there is, I just found my new social cause.

 

Finally, the home of the Melbourne Cup, Victoria, has very relaxed rules on sweeps, as you might expect. Make sure your maximum prize pool is less than $5,000, and you’re good to go. None of this ‘approved events’ shit that goes on in New South Wales. But then again, Victoria does not seem to have any snail races that I know of, so New South Wales still wins in my view.

 

Finally, a sweep CAN award prizes other than money, but be careful. Most States and Territories that do allow sweeps take a pretty dim view on prizes that consist of prizes like tobacco, firearms and ammo, weapons, cosmetic or other similar surgeries or procedures to improve physical appearance, and liquor prizes that are more than, say, 20 litres (to use the rules from New South Wales as an example). Though if your office sweep has prizes of plastic surgery, you might want to take a good long hard look at what type of place you are working for. You are beautiful just the way you are, promise!

 

Journalling Jaywalking

Just today, I was given a ticket for jaywalking.

Jabbing me in the chest with his finger, a young constable stopped me as I wandering across the road near Town Hall.  Jeering, he proceeded to tell me how dangerous it was to jaywalk, and then listed off statistics of pedestrians hurt or killed over the last twelve months in the Sydney CBD after being struck by cars or buses.

Jowls on his face wobbling like jelly, he implied that I was the worst type of juvenile delinquent and a very naughty young jumbuck, and would soon be jailbait if he had his way. Jauntily, he gave me the ticket, making a big song and jig about it in the process.

Jumping at the chance to demonstrate my (limited) knowledge of the law, I tried to explain my way out of a ticket by pointing out that I had not crossed the road against the pedestrian signal – I did not cross on the little red man – but rather had just crossed the street where I felt it was safe to do so.

Jerk that he was, he gave me the ticket for jaywalking regardless, making it the first ticket I had ever received from a police officer.

Jilted, I resigned myself to paying the fine. Jubliant, I was not.

Jitters back under control, I knew what needed to be done.

Jotting down some brief notes in my journal about the whole jaywalking incident, I decided then and there that I had a responsibility to let others know exactly how the laws of jaywalking work, and how to avoid getting a ticket for it.

Jogging home (with minimal jay-jogging along the way), I sat down and put together this blog entry, my first in a long time. Journaling the laws on jaywalking has been somewhat therapeutic, and I am calmer now that I was earlier.

Justice was, I feel, still not mine in this matter, and I promised myself to do everything possible to ensure that others can jaywalk justly, and jaywalk safely. Journeying from one side of the road to the other should not be this hard or costly.

Justifiable jaywalking is not an impossible dream, my friends. Jokes aside, you can cross the street legally anywhere, any time, if you know how the rules work.

Jurisdiction for this area of law is set down at the Commonwealth or national level, as the law of crossing roads is mostly contained in the Australian Road Rules, which each State and Territory then apply. Joyride now with me through the various sections of the Rules, which shows that there are a number of different ways of crossing a road or street, each of which can be regarded as ‘jaywalking’.

Jumbled though they might be, by jemmying open the door to the laws of jaywalking I have put together what I think is a complete list of what amounts to jaywalking.

Junk aside, you need to know that crossing the road within 20 metres of a designated crossing is a form of jaywalking, and so is crossing the road in a reckless manner, not crossing the road using the shortest possible path, staying on the road longer than you need to, or walking on the road in a way that is dangerous to yourself, other pedestrians or traffic (like walking in a breakdown lane, for example).

Jig, judo or javelin in the middle of the road, and you could be regarded as jaywalking.

Jewellers, the Japanese, Juventus Football Club fans, juicers and juice lovers, jumpsuit wearers and juju practitioners are all subject to this law, unfortunately. Jaundice is no excuse, nor is a love of Jumanji or jaffas.

Jute, jeans, jugs and joints are not going to help you bribe your way out of a jaywalking fine, either (actually, a joint might get you somewhere).

Jacked up with this new knowledge? Jam it in your head, and joust for joy.

Jaywalk safe and true, my friends.

Jesus, that was hard to write. Jillypuff is my favourite Pokemon. Justin, out.

 

 

 

So… when I die, it’s cool to get buried in my back garden, right?

Yes. It is totally cool and you should do it right now, assuming you are deceased. I love my place, almost as much as our bank likes me paying them back for it. If we didn’t live in a small-ish apartment in a massive anonymous building with poor ventilation and neighbours with sensitive little pensioner noses, I’d also be keen to be buried on/in/under my property when I finally shuffle on and leave my wife with some peace and quiet.

However, the law takes a rather more boring view on these sorts of things.

Firstly, there are a poo-load of laws around what can be done to a dead person. Not surprisingly, the idea is to treat them respectfully and in a way that protects public health. So we can’t just go about leaving dead bodies hanging from the Sydney Harbour Bridge or from the stadium lights of the MCG as a warning to those that might try and threaten our sovereign shores.

Now, before we go on, be aware that things are about to get a little… well… emo in the next few paragraphs. I apologise in advance.

Firstly, bodies have to be treated in an approved institution shortly after they die. That means a funeral home or mortuary, at least until the time of burial or cremation. That already poses a problem if you want to be buried at home, as your friends and relatives are going to need to ensure you’re taken offsite to a funeral home to get the proper preserving treatments done. Lucky you!

On that note, I just want to bring up a particularly fun part in the New South Wales law on this issue. It says, and I am quoting here, ‘A person must not use the refrigerated body storage facilities in a body preparation room or holding room except to store bodies.’

This has to mean that someone at some point put their beer in a body fridge to cool it down, and meant we actually had to write a law into New South Wales that says only bodies go in the body fridge. Stay classy, my home State.

Now we get to the good parts. Firstly, you can only be buried or cremated in a locked coffin. Why does it have to be locked if everyone thinks you’re dead? To stop sick puppies messing with your body, that’s why. I know my brother would not hesitate to draw a male reproductive organ on my face if I had some sort of open or unlocked casket.  While his drawing skills in this area are impressive, this is not something I want to have on me as I shuffle off into the afterlife.

Next, if you are going to be buried, you have to be buried at least 90 centimetres down. That’s not very far, in my view, but who am I to argue with the law on these issues.

And you can’t just dig a shallow grave anywhere. Your body has to be buried in a designated graveyard or vault. You can be buried on private land, including your own, but only if the area of landholding is 5 hectares or more and the location has been approved for that purpose by a local government authority. So unless you live on a farm and have a good relationship with your local council members, it is almost impossible to get buried on your own land. You’d have to apply for formal State Minister consent, and you can probably imagine how well that will go down with a bureaucrat in your State or Territory’s parliament. Worth a try, I suppose. Write them a letter and if they agree to allow you to be buried on your land, let me know.

Similarly, only a cremation authority can do cremations, so you’ll need to convert your home into some sort of crematorium before you’ll be allowed to be cremated in your own home. Easier to go with burial, methinks.

So, in summary, if you want to be buried on your own land, ask your friends and relatives to do it late at night, to avoid detection. And they better make sure there is no moon so it is extra dark. And they should wait for a rainy night as well, so the dirt is nice and soft and easy to dig.

I have spent way too much time thinking about this.

 

Stalker question of the week: Can I rummage through my neighbour’s garbage bin?

Hello to all my readers, and particularly to those that are stalkers. Great to have you with us. I wish you all the best in your stalk-related endeavours and trust you’ll do it in a mature, safe and non-invasive way, like a kind and gentle stalker should.  This article is written with you in mind, although hopefully we can all learn something from it.

I always find it interesting to see what my neighbours leave out in the garbage area of our apartment building. I know I am weird, but I cannot believe I am alone in having these thoughts and feelings.

I justify it in this way: checking out the stuff my neighbours discard gives me a small insight into the lives of another person or family, and I challenge anyone to say that they are not at least a little curious to see how their neighbours live. For those who live in the suburbs, I’m sure you go through the same thought process on garbage night, when you all dutifully ask your partner to take out the garbage bins ahead of collection in the morning.

So, can you take a look in your neighbour’s bin on garbage night? And if you do, are you breaking the law?

Let’s also take it one step further, because why not. If you find something you like in there, can you take it and keep it?

The answer is that it all depends on how and when you do it.

You can’t go into your neighbour’s house without permission and start rifling through their kitchen garbage bin, for example. That is called ‘break and enter’ and ‘theft’.

However, if they put their bin out on the street on garbage day, and you see a particularly fine piece of semi-eaten fruit or a slightly chipped but relatively unstained coffee mug in there, the law has said on several occasions that your neighbours have shown an intention to discard items in their garbage and hence have given up ownership of those items.

So feel free to have a dig through their bin and take anything you like the look of, if that’s really what you want to do.

Just make sure you’re not trespassing on their land when you do it. Ideally, your neighbours have put their bin out on the public footpath or street, rather than just inside the boundary of their property (most Council’s require the bin to be put on the footpath so the local garbo doesn’t technically trespass on private property when they collect the bin and empty it into their great big truck).

Also, don’t throw your neighbour’s garbage all over the place either when you rummage through it (or tidy it up after you are done). Throwing crap around is probably going to get you done for littering.

Please don’t go crazy in your bin-play though. The bin itself has not been discarded by your neighbours, just what is inside of it. So don’t take their bin. Leave the bin alone. Step away from the bin. No bin. Bin stay. Got it?

Oh, just one more thing, for my stalker readers in particular. If you’re stalking your neighbours, then going through their bin is very good evidence of your stalking behaviour, and unfortunately under our draconian legal system stalking can be (OK, should be and is) a crime. So while you might have a legal right to go through your target’s garbage bin (subject to what I said above), doing so could be used against you in a claim by your neighbour that you are stalking them.

Other things, like following them around everywhere and leaving them very unsubtle love poems on their doorstep will only add to this.

It’s a fine line between following and stalking. Don’t let going through someone’s bin be what causes you to cross the line.

Safe stalking everyone.

Important legal issue: Can I use deodorant as a weapon?

While I love many things about America, such as its cars, the price of clothes and food, its sporting teams (except the LA Lakers) and its general all-round can-do attitude, I hate the fact that guns are so easily available. And not just available, they are an entrenched and Supreme Court protected constitutional right, right up there with freedom of speech and the right not to be a slave (other than to love).

Since 1996 and the Port Arthur Massacre, and the almost immediate (and, interestingly, bipartisan) political move to ban almost all firearms in Australia, gun related murders in our country fell by 59% and the rate of suicide by firearms rate fell by 65%.

The move to ban guns in Australia was controversial, with many supporters of gun ownership in Australia relying on the favourite American argument in favour of the right to carry a firearm – self-defence.

In some respects, I get this. Everyone wants to feel safe, and to be able to protect their friends and family when the situation requires it. I am sure everyone reading this can think of at least one time when they felt unsafe on the streets or in their home, and I am also sure that too many of you have actually experienced violence first-hand.

The idea of protecting yourself and others from a violent attack is, in my view, core to the debate on the right to carry a weapon. I am not ashamed to admit that, on many occasions, I have considered carrying something, anything, when I am out late at night on a weekend with my partner in the Sydney CBD. I am very conscious of everyone around me at these times, and believe that if I had to, I would use whatever I had at hand to defend myself and my loved one from an attack.

Similarly, I would not hesitate to grab whatever was at hand to defend myself, my partner and our kitty (maybe) if some unknown person broke into our home. Sure, it was most likely be my dirty underwear or my giant Totoro plush doll, but I also know that if I could legally obtain and use one, I would be just as likely to grab a metal baton, a sword or (and I feel dirty saying this ) a gun.

Luckily, the laws of New South Wales, and all other States and Territories (with some differences) of Australia protect me from myself, by making it illegal for all people in Australia to carry almost any type of weapon or device that can be used as a weapon.

So what can we carry to protect ourselves, and what is illegal?

What is a weapon?

Hey, glad you asked. Well, actually no I am not. Why do you want to know what a weapon is? What do you plan to do with it? Oh, you are asking for ‘educational purposes’ only? Then that’s OK, and suddenly this article has a noble purpose of telling the reader why carrying weaponry is naughty.

Breaking it down, there are different categories of weapons:

  1. Prohibited weapons – these are specific items that the law says are illegal and are created solely to hurt another person. Guns, grenades, tasers and similar devices all fit into this category. Seen something used in a buddy cop movie to kill another person? Yep, that’s a prohibited weapon.
  2. Offensive weapons – these are things that are not illegal weapons as such, but with a bit of creative thinking and the right can-do attitude can be used as a weapon. We’re talking golf clubs, baseball bats, canes, iron bars, or big bits of wood, where the reason you’re carrying and using them is contrary to their intended purpose.
  3. Improvised weapons – these take some real lateral thinking. It is an everyday item that you use to commit violence on another. So your LV handbag, while beautiful, can quickly become an improvised weapon if you use it to beat on hordes of paparazzi desperate to take your photograph.
  4. Adaptive improvised weapons – these are almost identical to improvised weapons, however generally you’ve obtained some training to make an everyday object into an instrument of destruction. So some people have learnt how to use credit cards, belts, watches, pens and so on as weapons, in a deliberate and premeditated way. These are people not to mess with.

Prohibited weapons – The Naughty List

In New South Wales, the Weapons Prohibition Act has a handy, and scarily descriptive, schedule that sets out everything that a prohibited weapon. It is sobering to think that the reason items have been included in this list is because someone has used them to inflict harm on another person at some point in the past.

The list includes:

  • guns, cannons and ‘military style weapons’ – no surprises there
  • every kind of knife you can think of, and some I didn’t even know existed such as an ‘Urban Skinner’, which is apparently a blade or spike that has a handle fitted transversely to the blade or spike and allows the blade or spike to be supported by the palm of the hand so that stabbing blows or slashes can be inflicted by a punching or pushing action – wow, humans’ ability to create hideous weapons never ceases to amaze me
  • blowguns, spear guns beyond a certain length and devices that fire toxic gas at people
  • whips, martial arts weaponry, extendable and fixed batons, slingshots, tasers, brass knuckles, and something called a ‘sap glove’, which is a glove with bits of lead or metal sewn into the knuckle areas
  • pepper and capsicum sprays, and other devices such as torches or flares that are designed to disorientate or blind someone
  • any item that is designed to look innocent, but has a hidden weapon built into it, like pens that have a push out blade or walking sticks that have a sword hidden within them
  • body armour of all types
  • explosives

The reality is that almost everything we carry could, in some way, be used as a weapon or fashioned into a weapon if someone really set their mind to it.

So does that mean we can’t carry anything that might, in one way or another, be capable of being used as a weapon or in self-defence?

Not quite.

What can you use (but never should)?

In my bag right now, I have a phone, my wallet, and (please don’t laugh) a skipping rope that I used at the gym on the weekend. If attacked, I could legally use that skipping rope to defend myself (an improvised weapon), although furiously skipping on the spot, or even asking  my assailants to hold each end while we do a jump-rope song (Charlie Chaplin went to France / To teach the ladies how to dance / First he did the Rumba / Then he did the twist / Then he did the Highland Fling / And then he did the splits) is probably not going to do very much.

So I could swing the rope at my attackers while slowly backing away, which is a reasonable response to being attacked and, all other things being equal, probably legal. This is because I’m using it in a reasonable manner to defend myself against a real threat.

Now, if I took that same rope, wrapped it around my attacker’s neck, and proceeded to slowly and pleasurably asphyxiate them,  I would be (a) crazy (b) acting completely unreasonably and (c) using an improvised weapon in an illegal way. Quite rightly, I would most likely face criminal sanctions.

It’s probably not a great idea for me to give you too many ideas, but to take just one more example, spraying deodorant in an attacker’s face when they come at you with a knife is probably going to be seen as a reasonable means of self defence using an improvised weapon. Using your cigarette lighter to make a portable flamethrower with the same deodorant can to defend yourself is well outside a reasonable response and you’ll be subject to criminal proceedings.

This article deserves a bit of a final disclaimer. This is general information only, OK? It does not replace advice from a qualified lawyer.  Weapons are bad, and you should not try and hurt another person, creature, plant or inanimate object. Be nice to each other, hug your loved ones and just stay out of the way of everyone else. Stay safe, be alert, and call your mum.

How to Get Out of Stuff: Jury Duty

In 1995, fresh off his success in the hits Encino Man and Son in Law (where he played the delightful character ‘Crawl’), Mr Pauly Shore, comedian / actor / legend, starred in the movie Jury Duty. It was about an unemployed, lazy stripper (!!) who finds out that if he is selected for jury duty on a murder trial, he can earn $5 a day and get a free room at a local hotel, and all he has to do is watch a trial.

Needless to say, hilarity ensues, and he finishes up with the girl of his dreams, the innocent are freed from the clutches of prison, and the guilty are punished by the blind warrior that is the criminal justice system in America. I watched this movie way too many times.

I think it is fair to say that this fine movie is a highly fictionalised work that does not truly capture what it is like to be called upon to participate in a jury trial.

It does not show the stress involved in getting a summons letter requiring that you attend a jury selection process, nor the feeling of dread that comes with having to tell your boss and co-workers that you will need to take some unexpected time off work and will need everyone else in the team to carry your matters while you are gone. Given that most law firms seem to judge people badly for taking a lunch break, the idea of one to two weeks off to go to jury duty is, understandably, a point of friction for most workplaces.

The movie also places way too much emphasis on how supposedly awesome it is to be part of a jury. It doesn’t show the disruption to normal routines, the mad shuffling and juggling of family responsibilities, or the incredible boredom that comes if you are ultimately selected to be on a jury.

So, today, I want to give you an overview on the ways in which you can try and get out of your civic duty to form a panel of your peers on a jury. I understand how horrible it can be, and want to make sure you know what to do if and when your time comes.

Of course, I am not saying you should not do your civic duty of forming a jury of your peers. I am just saying there are good reasons not to, if you qualify.

Quick note, this applies to New South Wales only. Other States and Territories are on their own on this one.

You must have a ‘Good Cause’ to be excused

It is getting harder and harder to get out of jury duty, if you are called. Back in the day, it was sufficient to simply say that your work commitments would not allow you to participate without adversely affecting your career. Now, since changes to the law around jury trials and supposed ‘protections’ against recrimination from your employer if you do need to miss work to attend a jury trial, work commitments are not sufficient to give you a ‘good cause’ to be excused from a jury trial.

Instead, you must be able to fall within one of the following exemptions:

  • jury service would cause undue hardship or serious inconvenience to you, your family or the public. Politicians love to use this one, leading to hilarious jokes about how it would be more convenient to the public if they did have to be on a jury rather than in Parliament. Oh, political humour is the best humour. So elitist and patronising;
  • you have a disability that makes you unsuitable or incapable of effectively serving as a juror, without reasonable accommodation. This really relates to reasons of mental illness rather than physical illness in most cases, as particularly in personal injury matters the person claiming damages for injury will want a jury that is made up of people with physical injuries that might be more sympathetic to the injury claim;
  • there is a conflict of interest or some other knowledge, acquaintance or friendship that you have which may result in your being perceived as lacking impartiality as a juror. So fortunately, my brother can’t be on the jury that sends me to the gallows (and I KNOW he would if he could, just for fun); or
  • you must have a permanent mental or physical impairment that makes you incapable of doing jury service or that would injure your health if you do jury service.

Other grounds for being excused, if you are desperate

The sheriff of the court (who is the person making the ultimate decision as to whether you can be excused or not) may also consider excusing you in other circumstances, including if:

  • you are a sole trader or contractor – YAY, I could use this one if I had to;
  • you have care of school aged children and are unable to make alternate care arrangements. Kids are useful for something, apparently;
  • you are in an advanced stage of pregnancy and/or are having medical difficulties during your pregnancy. A medical certificate is required though, as apparently a pregnant belly is not sufficient evidence;
  • you have a medical condition which would make jury service onerous. I can’t even think of what medical condition would cover this, other than death or near death.
  • you are an emergency service operational employee. These guys are heros, and they should not need to do anything they do not want to do;
  • you are enrolled in education and need to attend lectures or exams, or are living outside your jury district to undertake studies. This would be the one time students might actually choose to go to lectures;
  • you have a mental or physical impairment. Note: being too lazy to participate does not, as far as I can tell, qualify you for this exemption;
  • you are absent from New South Wales (why would you want to leave our fine State?!);
  • you have transport difficulties, such as unsuitable or unavailable public transport (this should apply to everyone in Sydney); or
  • you are unable to read and understand English (which would make it difficult for you to read this blog post as well, so this one is pretty much for reference purposes only).

 

You might be able to be excused from jury duty – now what?

To claim an exemption from jury duty, you need to put together evidence to support your claim (see above), and lodge it all through the New South Wales Jurors’ website at juror.nsw.gov.au or send it in physically to the address that’s on the back of your jury duty summons. Electronic is easier.

The most important things to remember are:

  • you have to lodge your claim at least one week before the date you’re meant to rock up to court for the jury selection process; and
  • you need to get confirmation from the Office of the Sheriff that you have been excused. Much like breaking wind in a crowded lift, please don’t assume you’re excused just because you don’t hear anything.

 

How to Get Out of Stuff: Speeding Fines

Sorry for the lack of posts recently, dear reader (yes, all one of you – hi Mum). Our little family has been moving home and oh boy was it a delight. There were lows and lows, bad times and bad, darkness at the end of the tunnel, and I may have verbally abused a retiree. Who completely deserved it!

To make up for my lack of posts recently, I want to try and give something back to you all, so will spend some time over the next 2 weeks writing about various ways you can hopefully get out of things you don’t want to do, or that generally just suck. To be clear, I am focussing on using the law to get out of stuff or minimise its impact. I am not talking about getting out of cleaning the bathroom or going to work. There are some things in life that are just unavoidable and you will need to be just accept it.

However, there are other bad things in life that it might just be possible to get out of with a little bit of effort or knowledge of the way the law works. If I really try hard, I hope I can write semi-coherently and give you some guidance in a few of these areas, particularly where I’ve used these tips myself to get out of bad stuff that has happened to me.

First up – what you can do to get out of a speeding fine and loss of demerit points. And more importantly, how to get out of one if you do get done.

Now, a couple of quick qualifications. Firstly, I’m just covering New South Wales law here. Unfortunately I don’t know enough about the way the speeding laws work in other States and Territories to offer any advice on how to get out speeding fines anywhere else.

Secondly, don’t speed. It is dangerous and there are speeding cameras everywhere.

Thirdly, I offer no judgement on the morality of some of these options. If you want to use the summaries below in contravention to the law, that is between you and your soul.

To begin, there is a formal list of ways you can get out of a speeding fine. These are:

  • The penalty notice was issued contrary to law;
  • The issue of the penalty notice involved a mistake of identity;
  • The penalty notice should not have been issued, having regard to exceptional circumstances relating to the offence;
  • A caution should have been given instead of a penalty notice, having regard to the relevant caution guidelines;
  • The person to whom the penalty notice was issued is unable, because the person has an intellectual disability, a mental illness, a cognitive impairment or is homeless
    • to understand that their conduct constituted an offence, or
    • to control such conduct.

I’m not going to cover all of the above, but rather focus on the three that are most likely to apply to the average person who isn’t speeding to hospital with their pregnant wife, or has an evil twin.

 

Option 1 – Blame it on someone else

Ah, a classic. This option involves you nominating someone else as the driver of the car at the time the speeding offence was committed.

Two points I need to make very clear, at this point:

  1. It is illegal to nominate someone else as driving your vehicle at the the time of the offence if you were actually the one driving, so no blaming an former lover or some person from work you don’t like; and
  2. It is illegal to agree to be nominated as the person driving if you weren’t actually the one doing it, so if your grandmother (to take an example not at all related to my particular father’s mother) is on her last point of her licence, it would be illegal for me to say I was the one driving her car if and when she gets done for speeding the next time.

This also won’t work if the police pull you over for speeding. This one is strictly for when you get a notice in the post saying ‘too fast buddy’ (story of my life).

If you really were not driving at the time the offence was committed, you need to lodge a statutory declaration with the State Debt Recovery Office, which is currently in the form available on this page. There are different forms for individuals and companies, so make sure you grab the right one. You have to get a Justice of the Peace or a lawyer to certify it for you though, so I hope you know someone that can do this (or just ask me).

You’ve got 21 days to lodge the notice, and the State Debt Recovery Office assumes you received the notice 7 days after it was posted, regardless of whether you actually physically collected the notice or not.

Now, one last tip on this one, and this is all purely for educational purposes only. Foreign persons who are visiting Australia may borrow your car at some stage, and they may speed in it just before they go back home to, say, Germany. There is nothing stopping you nominating this person as the one who committed the offence, so long as this is the truth. The State Debt Recovery Office will then have to make an assessment on whether to pursue a foreign resident over the other side of the world for a speeding fine, and it’s not like they have a New South Wales licence to deduct points from. Like I said, EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY. Danke schön.

Option 2 – Take it to court

You always have the option of trying to plead not guilty to a speeding offence, and if you get done for doing 30 kilometres an hour or more over the limit, this is pretty much your only option if you want to avoid having your licence suspended.

To be clear, if you have been given a ticket by the police, and they were using a speed camera, your chances of successfully getting a not guilty pleading upheld are zero. Not close to zero, not 1 time in 100, but zero. So suck it up and be glad Sydney is getting a light rail system at some point. Besides, think of all the interesting people you’ll meet on public transport, and the various smells you won’t experience anywhere else.

To start this process, turn your speeding ticket over, and fill in the details to enter a plea of not guilty. That will start a formal court process, and if you know one, now is a really good time to get a lawyer with local court criminal hearing experience.

You’ll front up in court, and try (or get your lawyer to try) and get the charge of speeding dropped. Reasons might include evidence of a faulty fixed speed camera, mitigating circumstances, or you might have a really good alibi.

The court will either say you’re full of poo and find you guilty, and you’ll be disqualified from driving and have to pay court and legal costs. It’ll suck.

Your one hope here is you get what is colloquially known as a ‘section 10’, which means your case would be dismissed under section 10 of the Crimes (Sentencing Procedure) Act. This is pretty much a ‘yeah, you did it, but you’ve demonstrated to us that you’re not a bad egg so we’ll let you off this one time’ order. You might not even get your licence disqualified if you get one of these orders. The key here is to get as many good references from reputable people as you can, and any evidence to show you’re a valuable member of society and have learnt your lesson. The more people like you, the better.

Me? I’m friendless so I’d have no hope of getting a section 10.

Option 3 – Get out of Jail Free Card

There is one other good option, but you have to make sure you meet certain specific criteria first:

  1. You have to have held a driver’s license for 10 or more years and not had any demerit points off ever.
  2. You didn’t get done for going 30 kilometres or more over the limit.
  3. You didn’t get done in a safety zone, like a school zone (although you will earn my respect if you drive recklessly through a school zone. Stupid kids).
  4. There is nothing to suggest you were a little drunky or high at the time.
  5. You have always had a New South Wales licence, although you can rely on an interstate licence and a clean record but need to get evidence of this from the other State’s roads and traffic office.

Meet these criteria? Hey, good for you! I did once upon a time too, and I successfully used this option to get out of a small speeding fine during a double demerits long weekend. Please believe me when I tell you it is a great feeling to get a notice from the State Debt Recovery Office saying you’ve been given a ‘Caution’, rather than having to pay the fine and having points deducted from your licence.

To apply for this Caution, you need to submit an appeal with a letter that covers all of the five points online at: http://www.sdro.nsw.gov.au/fines/pn/review.php. You attach it to the application for review, which is available here. Don’t get creative or write a post as long as this one (sorry). Just list the above criteria and how you satisfy them. You should just be able to write ‘I have had a clean licence for 10 or more years, and understand the seriousness of the office I have committed. I can assure you it will not occur again and I request you exercise your discretion to grant me a caution in this particular circumstance.’

The legal result of this ‘Caution’ is that the speeding penalty notice is held to have been issued correctly and it is recorded that the offence occurred, but due to the circumstances and evidence provided you have now been issued a caution.

This is a one shot deal. Use it wisely and don’t waste it. If you get done for speeding for the first time and don’t use it for that offence, you can’t save it up for future speeding offences.

Finally, this caution will be recorded on your driving history.

Hope that helps. Next up? How to get out of jury duty.