Noise in Sandy Ground. A few weeks ago there was confusion in Sandy Ground. The police were closing down the entertainment spots. That was the rumour. There were some meddlesome visitors who had complained to the police about the music. So it was being said. The police had, in lightning fast style, moved to visit all the entertainment spots and to tell them they were not permitted to play amplified sound without a permit from the Commissioner of Police. That was what I heard. I carried out an investigation. This is what I learned.
Sandy Ground is a village with several hundred residents trying to get a good night’s sleep. There are also several business places that provide entertainment for the late-night crowd. Some of them play amplified music until three or four in the morning. Not all of the entertainment spots are enclosed. The noise level in Sandy Ground and echoing down to
About forty residents got together and wrote a petition to the Commissioner of Police. The vast majority of petitioners were ordinary Sandy Ground residents. This is what the petition read, in its entirety:
“We, the undersigned, respectfully request that the authorities in
From any reading, the petition asked for laws to be enacted. It asked that the laws be enforced. It asked that these laws set reasonable and specific levels of noise and reasonable and specific hours of operation for Sandy Ground. It asked that this be done so that residents, businesses, and visitors could exist and function and live in harmony. Not unreasonable requests, I hope you will agree!
The police Commissioner received the petition. He knew there was already a law on the books. It is called the Sound Amplification (Restriction) Act.
The entire Act is one and a half pages long. It consists of three sections. One imposes a fine of $2,000 for breaking the terms of a permit. The other two sections state,
Restriction on amplification of sound
1. Any person who, except under the authority and in accordance with the terms and conditions of a permit issued under section 2—
(a) operates, or causes or allows to be operated, any amplifier, loud speaker or any other device so as to amplify the sound made by the playing of any musical instrument or human voice or so as to amplify any other sound; or
(b) plays or operates, or causes or allows the playing or operation of, any record player, radio, television set, tape cassette player or other device designed or adapted for the transmission of sound;
from any premises in a manner which, by reason of the causing of noise, unreasonably disturbs or annoys any other person dwelling or working in neighbouring premises commits an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine of $2,000.
Commissioner’s power to issue permits
2. (1) The Commissioner of Police or any other police officer not below the rank of Deputy Commissioner of Police authorised by the Commissioner of Police may, on application by any person, issue a permit, subject to such terms and conditions as he may think fit.
(2) Every application for a permit shall be in writing addressed to the Commissioner of Police within a reasonable period of time before the commencement of the amplification and transmission of sound and shall specify—
(a) the date of commencement of the amplification and transmission of sound;
(b) the place on which such amplification and transmission are to be carried out;
(c) the name and address of the person who is in charge of such place for the time being; and
(d) the duration of and the necessity for the permit.
(3) Every application for a permit concerning such a place shall be accompanied by a signed statement by the person in charge of the place for the time being giving his consent for the use of the place for such amplification and transmission.
At a first glance, the law appears to be of general application. It seems to prohibit any amplification of sound from any premises which “unreasonably disturbs any other person” without a permit. It does not appear to be a general licensing law. What does this law really say? It does not require every person to obtain a permit before amplified music is played. A permit is only required for you to play amplified sound that unreasonably disturbs or annoys another person. If you are not planning to be unreasonable, no permit is required. So, in my opinion, a permit is not required for playing amplified music in an enclosed space, when the music cannot be easily heard outside. It is only if the amplified noise that you are making is unreasonable that you need to get a permit.
The Act is a mere skeleton of a law. It contains no detailed regulations or specifications of any kind. Nor does it provide for regulations to be made.
It is child’s play to test the level of amplified sound. Decibel counters can be picked up in any electronic shop. If the House of Assembly had intended to restrict business places that provide entertainment by amplified music to a reasonable level of noise and to reasonable hours, it would have provided for detailed regulations to be made.
Section 2(2)(a) and (d) suggest something else. Note that they do not cover existing restaurants and bars that play music every day. You have to submit the date when you will commence the sound, the duration of the amplified sound, and the necessity for the permit. This suggests that the House of Assembly intended it as a police permit for occasions such as political meetings and other sporadic and one-off events. There is nothing in the Act that suggests it is meant to be a general licensing law regulating the playing of amplified music.
So, what did the Commissioner do when he received the petition? He did not call a meeting as requested. He did not ask for regulations to be made, as requested. He did not send down an officer to warn the business premises that there were complaints and that they were being unreasonable. He got tough. He decided to implement the law. On the Friday night he sent a police officer down to Sandy Ground just as the bands were starting up. The officer’s instructions were clear. He told each manager that if amplified music was played that night, or any other night, without a permit, the manager would be prosecuted. The bands were sent home. No music was heard in Sandy Ground for several days.
Over the next several days, the Commissioner held unsatisfactory and ill-tempered meetings with irate residents and even more irate night spot owners.
The politicians washed their hands of it and said it was a police matter.
Eventually, the businesses all applied for and obtained permits setting out the hours when amplified music could be played. An uneasy calm returned to Sandy Ground.
In my opinion, none of this is satisfactory.
What the residents asked for has still not been done. No rules have been laid down establishing “reasonable and specific levels of noise”. No rules have been laid down establishing “reasonable and specific hours of operation in Sandy Ground”. It all lies in the hands of the Commissioner. He may well be a fair man, but who says he is an expert in what is reasonable when it comes to entertainment spots in Sandy Ground? Neither the residents nor the business places are happy with this situation.
Without regulations, the police will never know whether a complaint of unreasonable noise is justified. They have no authority to test for decibels. Certainly, they have no authority under this law to impose a permit for the playing of a reasonable level of amplified noise.
The conclusion must be that the law that is being enforced is inadequate to achieve what either the legislators or the administrators intend. The law is being implemented in a way that is outside the bounds. The government are inviting a suit for maladministration.
The moral of the story? If there is one it is this. You cannot run a country on inadequate, badly drafted laws. A rough skeleton of a law, which is clearly meant to work through detailed regulations should have the regulations made. A skeleton regulatory law, with no provision for detailed regulations to be made, cannot be made to work fairly on its own.
When you leave the discretion on how to make such a law work up to a single individual, you are inviting accusations of bad government, and worse.