– The weirdest legal cases of 2008

10. Although grunting is not a specific offence under English law, a 36-year-old bodybuilder was fined £70 at a magistrates’ court in Kent after his workouts became intolerable to his neighbours. Giran Jobe’s grunting during his regular two-hour sessions — and the noise when his power weights came crashing down on the floor of his top-floor flat — was so bad it reached as much as 100 decibels, according to monitors installed by the local council. In other words, as loud as the noise on the platform of a Tube station as a train arrives. Jobe was fined after 47 breaches of a noise abatement order; he pledged in future to focus on push-ups.

9. A woman in the US (where else?) sued L’Oreal after her hair turned from blonde to dark brown after using a colouring product. Charlotte Feeney accused the cosmetics company of negligence, claiming that the ordeal had left her clinically depressed and had impeded her social life. “I stay at home more than ever [and] wear hats most of the time,” she said, suggesting that all hair colouring products should come with a warning label. But a judge rejected her claim, noting that Feeney had offered “no facts, no opinions and no standards” to support her case.

8. Two residents of Lesbos, an island in Greece, launched legal action in a bid to win the exclusive right to call themselves Lesbians. The islanders claimed that the term’s modern day sexual connotations have caused “mental distress”. History, at least, was against the action: the term “lesbian” originated with Sappho, a 7th-century poet from Lesbos who was known for expressing her love for other women in verse. The case did not succeed.

7. An unusual case in Italy rested on an allegation of double trouble: identical twin sisters were prosecuted for a long-running scam in which one allegedly filled in for the other at work. Gabriela Odisio, a lawyer and part-time judge from Magenta, allegedly used her sister Patrizia to impersonate her when she was double-booked, allowing her to draw fees for being in two places at once. The sisters managed to fool everyone for three years, prosecutors said. Their ruse was only discovered after they were overheard discussing their plans by a client.

6. Concerned that too much bad news was affecting the “health and life of the people”, politicians in Romania attempted to pass a law requiring radio and television media to broadcast at least one positive news story for every gloomy one. The country’s Constitutional Court upheld a challenge to the new law, noting: “News is news. It is neither positive nor negative. It simply reflects reality.” The good news legislation was doomed to fail anyway, as it would likely have violated European Union human rights laws guaranteeing freedom of expression.

5. Courts sometimes have to make difficult decisions about whether something belongs in a particular legal category. But new ground was broken when the Supreme Court of Austria was asked to rule that Matthew Hiasl Pan, a chimpanzee, is a person. An animal-rights group launched the unusual legal bid in order to legally adopt Matthew after the shelter he had lived in for 25 years closed. The group argued he should legally be considered a person on the grounds that chimpanzees share 99.4 per cent of human DNA. But the judge ruled that it could not bring the case because it was not authorised to speak for Matthew.

4. The term “fashion police” was not just a metaphor in this case in Florida. A teenager was arrested for wearing trousers that sagged significantly below his waist, showing, as the police noted, “four to five inches of blue and black boxer shorts”. Residents of Riviera Beach, tired of seeing young people walking around town with their backsides hanging out, passed the “saggy pants” law in March. A first offence carries a fine of $150; a second, $300. However, the defendant escaped by the skin of his low-slung trousers after a judge ruled that the law was unconstitutional.

3. A court in Macedonia heard a case in which a brown bear was accused of stealing honey. Zoran Kiseloski, a beekeeper, tried numerous attempts to stop the bear getting into his hives, including flooding the area with generator-driven light and blaring out music from a stereo system. Kiseloski’s choice of “turbo-folk” should have been enough to drive any creature away but the bear kept coming back. Eventually, Kiseloski took legal action — and succeeded. As the bear didn’t have a legal owner, the court ordered the state to compensate Kiseloski, awarding him £1,700 in damages.

2. A woman in London escaped a parking fine with a novel excuse. The woman, a belly dancer, had stopped her car in a restricted parking zone, left her vehicle stationary with the engine running and went off to perform. After receiving a ticket, she explained that it had been necessary to leave the engine running because the car was full of snakes used in her exotic routine. The running engine kept the reptiles warm so that they wouldn’t fall asleep during the dance. Her fine was cancelled.

1. What’s in a name? A nine-year-old girl involved in a custody hearing in New Zealand drew international attention for her name: “Talula Does The Hula From Hawaii”. The judge decided that the name was a form of abuse and ordered the girl placed under the guardanship of the court. The judge noted that it was part of a wider phenomenon; other eccentric names given to children in New Zealand in recent times included “Number 16 Bus Shelter” and, for twins, “Benson” and “Hedges” and “Fish” and “Chips”.

Professor Gary Slapper is Director of the Centre for Law at The Open University


Full article: http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/law/article5288066.ece

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