September 27, 2011
Commissioner’s permission is not authority to make excessive noise, says QC

Residents of St. Vincent and the Grenadines have been advised that even if they have permission from the Commissioner of Police to operate musical instruments at functions, if they make excessive noise, they are liable to a fine or even imprisonment.{{more}}

The advice came from Queen’s Counsel Parnel Campbell, as he presented a lecture on the Noise Control Act, Chapter 389 of the Laws of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, to the Royal St. Vincent and the Grenadines Police Force on Wednesday, September 21 at the Old Montrose Police Station.

“…Even when someone has received permission from the Commissioner to operate a musical instrument at a function, that permission does not authorize the person to make excessive noise. So people who say ‘Ohh! I got a letter from the Commissioner and he authorizes us to have this function,’ and turn the music up high and feel that they are within the law are wrong….The permission is not a permission to violate people’s rights,” Campbell explained.

Persons who are found guilty under the act on their first offence, are liable to a fine of $250. A second offence will also result in a fine of not less than $250 and not more than $500. A third violation could result in a fine of not less than $500 and not more than $1000. A fourth offence will warrant a custodial sentence of not more than three months.

Paying specific attention to Sections 25 and 26 of the Act, Campbell said that both sections create the philosophical framework for the approach of noise control in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Section 25 of the Act states: “Every person in St Vincent and the Grenadines shall observe the basic principle that the making or continuance of excessive noise shall be deemed to be against the public interest and shall be actionable under this Act or otherwise.”

Campbell stated that the basic features of the Act were crafted in 1988. He noted that while he was Attorney General, in his first year, the then Prime Minister James Mitchell, who had been receiving complaints in respect to noise in Port Elizabeth, Bequia, instructed him to draft an amendment to the then Noise Act. After drafting the bill, Campbell said he piloted it through Parliament on April 21, 1988. That Act, which was number 18 of 1988, forms the basic feature of the existing Noise Control Act number 389.

“If you are having a barbecue in a village, why should people in a neighbouring village have to hear your music two to three miles away?…Your music should be such to entertain the people in the immediate locality and not people at a distance. When you turn that music up at a barbecue, purporting to entertain the whole village, you are violating the principle on which the Noise Control Act is based, because the music is no longer for the purpose of the barbecue, but for the purpose of creating a disturbance to the people….,” Campbell added.

In recognition of the many principles that have to be balanced and weighed, Campbell said section 26 in the law sets out the test of reasonableness. The section states, “A court in deciding the question of reasonableness under this Act, shall use the objective test of ordinary standards and ordinary sensitivities …” Explaining, Campbell said the court should not pay particular attention to people who are excessively fussy or sensitive.

Campbell said the Noise Act was not established to abolish noise, but it was designed to control the noise. “What is one person’s music is another person’s noise. If you are an entertainer, fine, but you don’t do it in such a way that people are disturbed…,” stated Campbell.

However, he noted that the Act preserves cultural traditions such as Carnival and Nine Mornings. Campbell said on Carnival Tuesday and the 11 days before Carnival Tuesday, persons will have to tolerate more noise than normal, and also for Nine Mornings, which runs from December 15 to 24 each year.

The former Attorney General then addressed the plight of an elderly man of Sandy Bay, who recently complained about loud music being played in his neighbourhood every Sunday afternoon, from about 2:00 p.m. to 2:00 next morning. Campbell said that it is totally against the law. Reading from Section seven of the legislation, Campbell said: “Subject to the other provisions of the Act, a loud speaker in street or public place should not be operated between the hours of 10:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m…”

Campbell said the exceptions to the general prohibitions are between 12 midday and 1:00 pm, and between 4:00 pm and 6:00 pm on the same day for the purpose of advertising, entertainment or business.

Highlighting the exception to the general prohibition, Campbell said subsection three, which says, “subsection one should not apply to operation of a loudspeaker for police, fire brigade or ambulance purposes.” “So the police are generally exempt from noise restriction; they can operate a siren or a police loud speaker at anytime, anywhere and is generally accepted,” he explained.

Campbell said“blanket permission” is not given to someone to operate a disco for long periods of time. The Commissioner’s permission is meant for specific functions on specific dates. “It does not allow the police to allow a man to run and play his music day after day. This is for someone who applies to the police to play on a certain day,” Campbell stated.

Explaining Section 19 (A) of the Act, Campbell said a person who operates a loud speaker or amplified music instruments in any shop, bar or restaurant, shall operate such instrument so as not to cause annoyance to any person. Campbell said if the person does not adhere to this, the affected person can make a complaint to the police and the police will then issue the warning to the person to reduce the music to a reasonable level or inform them that they will be charged.

If such annoyance continues, then that police are given the right to take away loudspeakers as exhibits until a hearing in court. “This allows the police to enter the premises without a warrant once they find that an offence has been committed,” he noted.