Technically Legal: Weird Laws You May Not Have Heard Of

Technically Legal: Weird Laws You May Not Have Heard Of

Word of the day: “Allegedly”

Otago students generally have a pretty laxed view on obeying Big Brother. After spending a few years living in North Dunedin, following the intricacies of the less serious side of the law starts to seem like more of a recommendation than an enforced hard line. Some laws, however, are downright fucking strange, embedded with outdated views rivalling your old PE teacher’s monologues on abstinence in that awkward Year 10 sex and drug education class. 

Critic Te Ārohi investigates what weird and interesting laws are still technically enforced (we assume they haven’t gotten round to updating them yet) after stumbling upon some photos of barristers wearing those 1700s court wigs. Also, no one can convince me that they should still have those wigs, even if it’s for ceremonial purposes – at least commit to the gimmick and go full colonial. I want Benjamin fucking Franklin giving me legal counsel.

I’m no law student, let alone a lawyer, but I’ve been to the law library a couple times and scoured Reddit for an hour or two, so I’m qualified enough. And to those with a superiority complex that study the book of the law or something, this article is going to very shittily paraphrase some legal definitions. Go cry about it.

Misuse of a telephone (Telecommunications Act 2001)

This law makes it illegal to use indecent and obscene language, or make a suggestion of profane nature with the purpose to offend, whilst using a phone. I know what this is intended for but still, it’s illegal to call someone a cunt over the phone, though perfectly legal to say to their face. In 2022, a Malborough man was actually sentenced to eight months in prison for this after calling a health services provider and saying, quote: “Go stick your head in an oven, fucking idiot, country full of dickheads, fucking peasant.” Sidenote: this guy definitely deserved jail for other reasons. Also the definition of a telephone is absurd – basically anything that can Google counts as a phone under this act. Getting abused by some twelve year old playing Call of Duty? Fuck it, call the cops, send that little prick to juvy. Maybe this law should be talked about in those shitty cyberbullying and internet safety videos that they show you at intermediate school. 

Excreting in Public Place (Summary Offences Act 1981)

This one seems straightforward: you defecate in public and get a $200 fine and all that jazz. But if you think no one is watching, then it’s perfectly fine. This is an actual defence that will hold up in court. If you happen to find yourself blind drunk and hypothetically unaware of your surroundings: pop that squat, take that leak (they cost the same). Hell, if you’re into it, take a shit – it’s legal (allegedly), as long as you think no one is watching. Even if someone is watching, I’m not even sure that this law is enforced here. This is Dunedin after all. Walk around any Saturday night, and you’ll find breathas pissing everywhere. To be fair, though, they all might think no one can see them since chances are they’re dressed in camo.

Advertising reward for stolen or lost property

The entire premise of the Castle Facebook page is illegal. Anyone who advertises for a reward for the return of property that has been lost or stolen is liable to up to a $200 fine. That’s fucked. Lost something and want it back? You can’t offer a reward, and you’re apparently not even allowed to say, “No questions asked.” Out of pure curiosity, Critic scrolled Castle24 for less than two minutes and found more than ten examples of this. Box on return? $200 fine on return, you stingy bastard. Some wounder reading this will definitely scroll through Castle24 on a dusty Sunday, filing reports to the court, just out of pure spite and hangxiety. Some people just want to watch the world burn. 

Acting as a medium with intent to deceive

Anyone that acts as a spiritualistic medium, claiming to possess the powers of telepathy, clairvoyance or any powers similar, with the intent to deceive are liable to fines up to $1000. Apparently Critic’s 2022 feature article on how to do just this wasn’t the best idea, actually (‘The Online World of Fake Psychics’ by Ruby Werry). You can’t tell me that anyone pretending to talk to my ancestors has any goal but to deceive me. I wonder how many times this had to happen before it became a law. This is like the Michael Jackson still alive scam – “transfer me $600 so I can release more music. Hee Hee!” I reckon there’s a $1000 fine incoming for that modern day witch-craft coming from our horoscopes column.

Cousin marriage

This one isn’t a law, per say, I’m just surprised that this is legal given the cultural connotations surrounding cousin marriage in New Zealand. It’s a bit of a social taboo, but it’s perfectly legal to marry your first cousin. Cousin marriages are generally frowned upon and are broadly associated with birth defects, but the rates of these are not much higher than normal rates of birth defects and are about the same amount of risk as giving birth over the age of 40. It is, however, illegal to marry more than one person and that is punishable by between two and seven years in prison. So if you're into that thing, you’ll have to pick just one cousin. You do you bro, there’s nothing stopping you – except maybe some marginal looks at family events but even then, one thing may lead to another (looking at you, Southland). 

Māori Wardens

I don’t know how this still exists. A Māori Warden has the power to enter any licensed premise and make the vendor stop selling or supplying liquor to anyone Māori, whom in the eye of the Warden is intoxicated, quarrelsome, disorderly or is likely to become so, whether intoxicated or not. Māori Wardens also have the power to confiscate any Māori person’s car keys who they believe are incapable of driving a motor vehicle, as well as ordering any Māori person that appears to be intoxicated or partly intoxicated to leave a hotel. John Key described this law as “a bit racist” and we all know that he is unequivocally the best source in determining racism. This law is actually probably one of the only examples of legislation that recognises Māori right to self-governance – but it probably could be worded a bit better.

This article first appeared in Issue 11, 2024.
Posted 3:47pm Saturday 11th May 2024 by Adam Stitely.