Sat | Jan 19, 2019

Tony Deyal | Laying down the law

Published:Saturday | December 15, 2018 | 12:00 AM

In England, it is illegal to handle a salmon in suspicious circumstances. Although 'suspicious' is not defined in the statute, being drunk to the gills might constitute a cause.

Perhaps drunk with power, the British lawmakers also made it an offence to be drunk in a pub or while in charge of cattle. You can be arrested for carrying a plank along a pavement (as well as any ladder, wheel, pole, cask, placard, showboard, or hoop), and even beating or shaking any carpet, rug, or mat (except doormats before 8 a.m.) in a thoroughfare in the Metropolitan Police District.

Britain's Independent newspaper reports that Christopher Sargeant, a PhD student at Cambridge University, spent two months analysing British laws and compiling a list of 10 lesser-known ones that remain on the statute books despite being, in some cases, ancient, and in others simply bizarre.

England, however, is not the only country where this is the case. The US has many more such laws. In the city of Gainesville, Georgia, it is illegal to consume fried chicken any way other than by hand. In Carmel, California, where Clint Eastwood was once the mayor, you can make every bounty hunter's day by wearing shoes with heels that are more than two inches (5cm) high or with less than a one-square-inch base. If you decide to ignore the law, you have to be well-heeled to pay all the fines.

In Alabama, it is a criminal "offence against public health and morals" to engage in playing cards, shooting, hunting, gaming and racing on a Sunday, and in addition to a fine of $10 to $100, you can be sentenced to hard labour for up to three months for any of these "immoral" acts.

In Virginia, fornication is completely banned except for married persons. The one that beats them all is an Idaho law which states, "Cannibalism is strictly prohibited and punishable by up to 14 years in prison, except under 'life-threatening conditions as the only apparent means of survival'." Eat your heart out, folks!

Here in the Caribbean, some of the British laws are still around. Last month, former Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding identified some in Jamaica that were enacted more than 100 years ago and have become "fossilised". One, the Kingston Sailors Home Act of 1879, requires the Government to establish a home, administered by a board chaired by the custos of Kingston, to provide accommodation for sailors laid off from ships that have left Jamaica's ports.

Another, the Bicycles (Control of Second-Hand) Act, still makes it illegal to sell, purchase or even repair a second-hand bicycle without a licence and payment of the appropriate licence fee. Mr Golding also cited the Women (Employment of) Act, which makes it illegal to employ women to work at nights, except in specified circumstances (such as nursing); the Recruitment of Workers Act, which requires that a licence be obtained and the appropriate fee paid in order to recruit workers beyond a radius of 20 miles from the place of employment; and the Licence and Registration Duties Act, which requires dog owners to obtain a licence, pay an annual fee, and submit an annual return for each dog that they have.

Why my interest in these archaic laws? First of all, we have laws that need to be changed and yet are allowed to remain. In Trinidad, for instance, while these acts are commonplace, it is still illegal to be drunk, beg, sleep, loiter, wash cars or let your kids run naked in the streets. Importing or owning a mongoose is also forbidden.

My second and perhaps more important reason is that despite all the anachronisms in the laws and the long delays in obtaining or dispensing justice, the lawmakers, lawbreakers and law shakers are dominating the news headlines. The Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago has asked Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley,to trigger a constitutional process to investigate allegations of misconduct against Chief Justice Ivor Archie.

The Law Breakers have not just killed 500 people so far this year, but home invasions and robberies are increasing as we head into the Christmas season. The main law up-keeper in-chief, Police Commissioner Gary Griffith, is front and centre in person and personality, winning massive public support despite the murder rate. And a former government minister, Devant Maharaj, publicly shared the phone numbers of the prime Minister and the Minister of National Security, lawyer Stuart Young.

At the same time all these events are synchronous with a much-advertised 'Sex Island Party', supposedly taking place in Trinidad this weekend, which claims official support and promises prostitutes and drugs at a cost of around US$5,000 per head (or whatever).

The police commissioner has decreed, "Before the first joint is lighted, before the first lap dance is had, that will never happen." The chief justice is silent on the matter, as is the prime minister. The media are interviewing people who have said these parties are commonplace in Trinidad and there was one last year. As of yesterday, the Law Association has not met on this extremely serious matter to impeach anyone, and Devant Maharaj has not yet shared the phone number of the organiser of the party or any ministers or other dignitaries who may have given permission or would be present at the party.

Under all the pressure and insecurity, National Security Minister Stuart Young, who believes that Maharaj's action may constitute 'sedition', is supposedly looking for a 'seditive'.

- Tony Deyal was last seen saying that the Sex Party was initially scheduled for Maryland until the organisers found out that giving and receiving oral sex is illegal there.