A recent legal dispute in Scotland suggests that laughter can be the shortest route to jail
The comic Victor Borge once observed that “laughter is the shortest distance between two people”. A recent case from Scotland, though, suggests that laughter can be the shortest route to jail.
Stuart Hunt has been charged with “laughing in public”. Officers visited his home in Drumnadrochit, near Loch Ness, and charged him with laughing at his neighbour’s daughter, contrary to an anti-social behaviour order (Asbo) imposed on him in 2008.
The legal path to the unlawful laugh was long and punctuated with snarls. Hunt fell into a series of rows with Stuart and Shirley Latham, his neighbours, with whom he shared a private road. The arguments have been raging for six years. Hunt accused the Lathams of speeding past his house in their car. He then took the law into his own hands by installing speed bumps on the road. That resulted in a £50,000 case at Inverness Sheriff Court, which Hunt lost. He later attacked his neighbour, for which he was convicted and fined £200.
Following more rows, Hunt was placed under an Asbo, the conditions of which were nothing if not thorough. Under the court order he was forbidden from staring at people, engaging in slow hand claps at the actions of others, waving objects at people, adopting a menacing stance at anyone or laughing at anyone within the jurisdiction of Highlands council. It is the first time someone has been legally ordered not to laugh.
Hunt stands accused of breaching this Asbo by driving passed the Lathams’ daughter and laughing at her. He says he didn’t laugh but merely “smiled a bit” and shook his head when she made a manual gesture at him. As the court at which Hunt will be appearing is within the jurisdiction of Highlands council, and he is still subject to the Asbo, he must be hoping that if the prosecutor makes any good jokes he will be able to bite his tongue long enough to avoid the laughter charges against him being racked up, live, during the hearing.
The “no laughing” Asbo isn’t the only odd one to have been issued. In 2005, Kim Sutton, a 23-year old woman from Bath, was banned from throwing herself into the River Avon or “going into any open water in England or Wales”. In 2007, in Clackmannanshire, William Rae was forbidden from shouting or swearing at his television. But the prize for most remarkable Asbo goes to one issued in 2003 to a 15-year old boy from Alnwick, Northumberland. The order demanded that he “must not be seen in public without alcohol” and ordered him “to act in a manner likely to cause harassment, alarm and distress to others”. He dutifully obeyed the order with gusto and so was brought back to court at which point the drafting errors were identified.
Gary Slapper’s new book Weird Cases is published in December by Wildy, Simmonds & Hill