Governing the Ghosties – Laws Aimed at the Supernatural

A while ago, we covered the surprising number of ways in which fairies play a role in the law. But the “good folk” (as they are traditionally known, mostly because legend has it that insulting them is a bad idea) are not the only supernatural creatures that the law has actually felt a need to consider. Here are some genuine laws from around the world which seek to regulate the supernatural:

Do You Have a Licence for that Zombie?

San Francisco has specific laws to govern the magical art of necromancy – raising or manipulating the dead through sorcery. Perhaps even more surprising is the fact that the US state doesn’t even ban this practice, it just requires that practitioners hold a valid licence.

More specifically, in San Francisco you need a licence to be a fortune teller. Sounds fair enough, but necromancy is bizarrely included in the list of practices that come under the umbrella of “fortune telling” for the purposes of the law. If anybody ever did manage to use magic to raise the dead, though, there’s a pretty good chance that person would be running afoul of some other law whether they had a valid licence or not.

You Can’t Just Wave a Magic Wand to Solve Your Relationship Problems

Well, not in New Orleans you can’t. Another odd piece of US state law puts limitations on the services that people can offer to perform as a business when those serviceas are carried out using magical power. Strangely, this once again rests in laws which are designed to govern fortune telling, but which give a very expansive and surprising definition of what “fortune telling” can mean.

Beyond actual fortune telling, many of the activities prohibited under the New Orleans fortune telling laws revolve around the use of voodoo or sorcery to magically resolve relationship problems. People are forbidden from “[setting] forth [their] power to settle lovers’ quarrels, to bring together the separated” or indeed to “bring together the bitterest enemies converting them into staunchest friends.”

I Wish for a Lawyer

This is not so much a law as a specific case, but it was one that managed to gain some traction so you could argue it had legal backing of a sort. In Saudi Arabia in 2009, a family headed to court in order to launch a lawsuit for harassment. The party they claimed to be carrying out the harassment? A genie.

It’s worth pointing out that the common Western view of genies is a very narrow one, based mostly on the one in the tale of Aladdin who had been trapped in a lamp and granted three wishes to the person who freed them. This is not the common practice of a genie when you look at the full body of myth; they are invisible, sometimes vengeful spirits capable of nasty things like demonic possession. The family who filed the 2009 lawsuit claimed that their harasser wasn’t going to quite those extremes; he was apparently leaving them threatening voicemails, stealing their phones, and throwing stones at them. When we say the case gained some traction, court officials confirmed that they would indeed investigate the allegations – though their statement included the words “we have to” and “despite the difficulty.”

The Cardiff Crown Court Cameraphone Case

Cardiff_Crown_CourtSo a guy named David Davies was recently caught filming evidence at Cardiff Crown Court and putting it online. That’s a pretty daft thing to do. It’s a pretty flagrant violation of the law, right in a place dedicated to prosecuting people who break the law, and it’s hard to see what he stood to gain. It’s pretty much one step up from trying to burgle a police station. A lot of people had a giggle at what was a pretty stupid thing to do, but it’s not until you look at the details that you get a chance to appreciate just how many levels of stupidity were going on. Here’s a bit of a breakdown of the main ways in which Mr. Davies just didn’t think his act of rebellion through.

Breaking the Law

Okay, this is the blindingly obvious thing. But when you consider all the other things at play, the fact that it’s so blindingly obvious actually starts to look like part of Davies’ stupidity. It’s not just that he actually broke the law, nor that he ignored the many prominent signs warning him that he could be prosecuted for it. Even professional journalists with reputable news outlets are not allowed to do so much as snap a photograph in court, and the question of whether they should be allowed to bring in cameras and how freely they should be able to do so is a pretty big bone of contention right now. So it’s pretty much in the interest of the court not to undermine the matter by ignoring some random guy with a cameraphone casually sticking a video of a trial on the internet.

Doing it in Court

Breaking the law while in a courtroom isn’t just ironic, it’s pretty stupid. As a place specifically designed to hold and sentence criminals, a crown court will tend to have a fair amount of security. It will also have a number of judges (who can, to some degree at least, take immediate action against rule-breakers during a trial) and police officers at any given time. It’s not exactly the best place to break the law and expect to get away with it. It’s probably one of the best places to break the law if you want to maximise your chances of being caught and fast-track your prosecution.

Sticking it Online

Despite that, Davies might have gotten away with it if he had just taken the video and kept it to himself or, maybe, some trusted friends down the pub. But he didn’t. He decided to live-stream the video of the trial on Facebook for all to see. Predictably, people did see it. And they contacted the police. Sticking video evidence of your wrongdoing on the internet is the act of a very brave or very stupid criminal. Davies is definitely one of these things.

Returning to the Scene

They say a criminal always returns to the scene of the crime, and perhaps Mr. Davies took this to be a rule he shouldn’t break. The police could, of course, have gone and found Davies and then arrested him after they were alerted to his video. But it turned out they didn’t need to. He obligingly walked straight back to the court later that week, where he was taken into custody and subsequently handed a jail sentence.

Poor Motive

The other thing that Davies apparently didn’t think through was the risk-reward ratio of his crime. Most criminals commit their crimes for financial gain or for romantic reasons like revenge or a way to strike out at a society that doesn’t understand them. It’s hard to say what Davies’ motive was, but it seems like a toss-up between “This is cool, so I should film it” and “This will get me so many likes on Facebook!”

Web of Lies Untangles for Car Accident Fraudster

When somebody has been injured because another person was at fault, then that person is usually entitled to claim financial compensation. Whether it’s an injury that occurred as a result of a workplace accident or a traffic mishap, if somebody else was at fault then compensation is a legal right.

While some of the hefty sums might sound nice on paper and they can certainly help make up for costs incurred by the injury, in truth the money only does so much to make up for the pain and suffering. But now and again, somebody will try to get their hands on the compensation without the inconvenience of actually getting injured.

This is what James Young tried to do. He didn’t just lie to try and get compensation he didn’t deserve; he lied and lied again until, recently, the whole thing collapsed like a wonky Jenga tower because he hadn’t counted on anybody bothering to fact check his case.

The crash (which did take place, though not as Mr Young described it) occurred in a supermarket car park. Mr Young’s car was stationary when another driver accidentally backed into it, and he was not in the vehicle. He was near enough, however, to see the collision, and run to get into his car quick. He then drove a few feet, stopped again, and got out clutching his neck insisting that he had been injured in the crash.

Apparently expecting the other driver’s insurer, who would ultimately pay the personal injury settlement, to cough up the cash without question, Mr Young decided there was no point in stopping there. As well as claiming that he had suffered soft tissue damage in the crash, he claimed that his two children (who were, at least, in the car) had also been injured and that compensation was due for them. Then, just for good measure, he decided that he would add an extra injured child, who wasn’t actually there, onto his claim. Finally, he decided he might as well pretend that his partner was also in the car, perhaps because five fictional injuries seemed like a nice, round number. In total, he attempted to claim thousands of pounds.

Contrary to Mr Young’s belief, however, insurers do not like paying questionable settlements without checking. His claim did not get far before LV=, the insurer in question, decided they might benefit from watching the convenient CCTV footage of the event, which showed them exactly what really happened. For his attempted fraud, Mr Young was given a six month suspended sentence at Mold Magistrates’ Court early this month, and was also ordered to pay £200 in costs.

When Batman Sued Batman

Batman Animated
The world has seen its fair share of stupid cases. So has this site. But one of the most surprising of all is probably the time Batman got sued. By Batman.

Yes, you read that right. Batman sued Batman. It’s also worth noting that the case of Batman vs. Batman is objectively better than the recent blockbuster film Batman vs. Superman. Both received and deserved a negative reception but, unlike its Hollywood counterpart, Batman vs. Batman is at least an entertaining story.

Okay, it’s time to start actually clearing up some of the confusion about how this case came to be. Only one of the Batmen (or is it Batmans? Perhaps Bats Men) is the fictional superhero from DC comics. The other, the one that did the suing, is a city in Turkey that just happens to be called Batman. The city of Batman is located in the Batman province, right next to the Batman river. As of 2008, it also boasted a mayor who was, coincidentally, completely bats!

The was around the time when The Dark Knight, a highly-acclaimed film and the sequel to Batman Begins, was coming out. The film has seriously been suggested as a contender for the best motion picture ever made, so unsurprisingly the caped crusader was getting a lot of publicity. This filled Huseyin Kalkan, mayor of the city that shares a name with Bruce Wayne’s alter ego, with a sense of rage and injustice. Though to be fair, we can’t completely rule out the idea it was an elaborate practical joke.

“There is only one Batman in the world,” proclaimed Kalkan as he launched a lawsuit against both Warner Bros Studios and Christopher Nolan who directed, co-wrote and produced the blockbuster. He accused Warner Bros and Nolan of stealing the name of the city without permission. Quite why he felt that only these parties were guilty when Batman has been appearing in other films, TV series, and comics since 1939… well that’s best known to himself. It’s almost like he was trying to ride the hype.

Kalkan claimed that the city should receive royalties in return for the use of the Batman name. He also claimed that the city was owed compensation for the “psychological impact” that stealing the city’s name had had on its residents. The city of Batman has a higher-than-average suicide rate for women, and apparently this is because of the trauma of seeing the city’s name used by an internationally-popular fictional superhero.

Some truly ridiculous lawsuits have been successful at one time or another. This was not one of them. Kalkan has been left to endure the existence of “the world’s greatest detective” uncompensated.

Legal Team not Tickled by This Documentary

TicklingTickling: it usually manages to raise a laugh, but rarely raises a lawsuit. Or so you might think at least. With the approach of a documentary, scheduled for release in June, things seem to be the other way around.

Tickled is an investigative documentary by David Farrier, a TV reporter from New Zealand, and director Dylan Reeve. The title is not abstract; it is a film about tickling. Specifically, it looks at the strange world of “competitive endurance tickling,” in which people compete to see who can stand to be tickled for the longest.

Not exactly a major league sport, but it certainly sounds like there are plenty of laughs to be had. None of these laughs, however, have been had by the stern-faced legal team that has dogged the film throughout its production.

For a film that hasn’t even reached screens yet, Tickled has weathered a lot of legal controversy. Two defamation suits – both of which were thrown out – have already been brought against the film by its main subject, David D’Amato or, to use his occasional alias, Terri Tickle. D’Amato claims that the film damages his character and portrays him unfairly and inaccurately as a deviant, though he was not able to win judges around to this view in either of his lawsuits.

D’Amato also denied claims made in the documentary that he is the owner of Jane O’Brien Media, a company which specialises in making videos of people tickling one another.

It may seem like the lawyers have suffered a funny bone failure, but many aspects of this situation are no laughing matter. The documentary claims that D’Amato has been “terrorising young men” by bullying those who wished to withdraw footage of their involvement in competitive endurance tickling. Furthermore, when Farrier, who is gay, began his investigation into Jane O’Brien media, he made a request to interview people involved in the competitive tickling league. Though this was before the current legal controversy had time to brew, at the very start of the investigative process, his interview was denied. The reason given by the company’s representative was “Association with a homosexual journalist is not something we will embrace.”

It seems that D’Amato’s lawyers are right about at least one thing; tickling is not a laughing matter. Some of Jane O’Brien Media’s less legally-oriented tactics to try and combat the movie, however, do fall within amusing territory. The company sent a representative to a screening of Tickled at the Sundance Film Festival, who seems to have achieved the goal of being a mildly irritating audience member. “From what I understand,” Farrier said of the representative’s conduct at the screening, “he made a lot of loud ‘hurmph’ noises.”

Bizarre Lawsuits That People Actually Won

We have featured some bizarre and ridiculous cases here before. Most of these are so ridiculous that, when it’s a case of one person suing another, the litigation-happy party has been laughed out of court. However, this is not always the case. Sometimes, a bizarre and seemingly ridiculous attempt to sue will ultimately win favour with the courts. Here are a couple of the strangest and most absurd cases that actually, eventually proved to be successful.

Under the Weather

We all know that weather forecasts are not infallible – and people who don’t know it tend to learn the hard way. One person from Israel definitely learned that lesson the hard way. The TV weather forecast predicted the day was going to be pleasant and, trusting it implicitly, the future litigant ventured forth in light clothing. She then proceeded to get caught in a downpour. Now to be fair on this individual, she did have a really unpleasant time. She not only got soaked, but subsequently caught a nasty case of the flu, which in turn landed her with a week of missed work and some medicine costs.

This isn’t exactly a fate that anyone would wish for, but most people would agree that it’s hardly the TV station’s fault that their predictions weren’t 100% accurate across every square foot of the area. The woman in this case didn’t take that view, however, and neither did the court, which upheld her claim for roughly US$1000 for stress and financial loss.

A Gruesome Posthumous Lawsuit

Before proceeding, it should be noted that this case involved a rather gruesome accident, and a few basic details of this are so central to the case that it cannot be explained without mentioning them.

In 2008, Gayane Zokhrabov, 58, of Illinois brought a claim against the estate of the late 18-year-old Hiroyuki Joho. The reason; he had inadvertently injured her in the process of dying in a tragic accident.

This is where the grisly details come in. Zokhrabov was waiting on the platform at a railway station, and Joho was rushing to catch a train. He cut across the tracks as the train pulled into the station. Admittedly this was a foolish move, but he got more than enough punishment for it as the train was a bit nearer and going a bit faster than he had accounted for. He was struck by the train and killed, and parts of his body struck Zokhrabov at speed as she stood on the platform. For this, she decided to sue Joho’s estate.

Initially her claim was thrown out, as Joho was dead at the time of the injuries and therefore was unable to control or predict where the parts of his body were going to go. However, a judge later overturned this initial decision following an appeal and held Joho posthumously liable.

The Time a Modern Court Had to Refuse Trial by Combat

Trial by CombatWay back in the annals of history, those facing certain accusations had a right to invoke trial by combat. Essentially, they would challenge their accusers to a duel, and if they won they would be freed from the accusations made against them.

Of course, this was hundreds of years in the past. The last time anybody actually challenged their accusers to a formal trial by combat in a UK must be centuries ago now, right?

Actually, the last time anybody invoked this right – or tried to at least – was in 2002. The man in question was an unemployed mechanic, aged 60 at the time, named Leon Humphreys.

So what were the charges Humpherys was faced with? What outrageous accusations – and what terrifying punishment – could inspire him to launch his desperate bid to win his freedom in a brutal fight to the death?

He was refusing to pay a fine of £25 for failing to notify the DVLA that he had taken a motorcycle off the road.

At first Humphreys was simply issued with the fine. He refused to pay it, so he was taken to the Magistrates’ Court at Bury St Edmunds. It was there, after first pleading not guilty, that he threw down the gauntlet.

Unfortunately, and as amusing as the image would have been, he did not literally throw down a gauntlet. However, he did boldly and unambiguously make it clear that his challenge was not just combat but “a fight to the death,” which is quite an impressive way to throw down a figurative gauntlet.

As far as anybody could tell, this was not an elaborate joke or a publicity stunt or anything of that sort. Humphreys insisted that he had a right to be tried by combat. Modern European human rights law, he insisted, made sure that the ancient right to issue such a challenge was still valid. He did not elaborate on exactly which areas of the European Convention on Human Rights dealt with this particular issue.

He proposed that he “fight a champion put up by the DVLA… to the death” to decide whether he should pay the fine. Perhaps by way of encouraging the courts and the DVLA to consider this suggestion, he made it clear that he was willing to be flexible about the nature of the battle. He would be equally willing to fight with “samurai swords, Ghurka knives or heavy hammers.”

Unfortunately for Humphreys, magistrates neither accepted his proposal nor agreed that fighting a DVLA champion to the death was his right under EU law. He was fined £200, plus a further £100 in costs.

Perhaps the scariest thing, however, is that Humphrey’s isn’t even the most recent person to request trial by combat. Another request was made in a US court just last year, and this one was from an actual lawyer!

The Wagon Mound: How An Incorrectly Closed Ship’s Tap Changed Civil Law

Civil law deals with matters that affect everyday people and issues. For most cases, any civil dispute or claim will be assessed and heard under tort law. Derived from the French term “to wrong,” tort law seeks to address just that; to resolve any civil law disputes, and right any civil wrongs.
To make a claim under tort, certain principles and legal tests must be fulfilled. One such element to be met is “Remoteness Of Damage.” Here, the tort lawyer has to ask themselves one question; was the damage inflicted upon the injured party damage that was foreseeable? Was the damage received too remote that those potentially liable could not have predicted or foreseen it, and acted accordingly?

The basis behind that legal question arises from an interesting Australian case, which (currently) remains the leading case regarding remoteness of damage in tortThe Wagon Mound No 1 [1961] AC 388 HL. The matter was referred to the British House of Lords from the Supreme Court of New South Wales, and later appeared before the Privy Council as Overseas Tankship (UK) Ltd v Morts Dock and Engineering Co Ltd (The Wagon Mound No1) [1961] UKPC1, with a similar verdict. However, The Wagon Mound [No.1] is not to be confused with The Wagon Mound [No.2], which, although dealing with the same cases, addressed the matter of breach of duty of care.

The case itself is quite the story- and is very much one of cause and effect, and crazy chain of events. The ship Wagon Mound was docked in Sydney Harbour in 1951. Crew members working on the ship failed to turn off a tap on the freighter, the result of that was to accidentally leak furnace oil into Sydney Harbour. The oil drifted underneath Sheerlegs Wharf where ships were being repaired. Although the dock workers noticed the oil in the water around them, they were assured that it was not flammable –and resumed their work. The dock workers were using oxyacetylene torches at the time; sparks and hot metal produced by the torches fell into the water, onto cotton waste that was floating on the water. Inevitably, the cotton caught alight- which then set the oil alight.

The ensuing fire substantially damaged the wharf in question, and several ships alongside the wharf at the time. Few people were injured- but the damage to shipping and property was significant. All this was due to a few crew members failing to turn off an oil tap…

The owners and operators of the timber and repair yard, Mort’s Dock, subsequently took legal action against the owners and operators of the Wagon Mound, Overseas Tankship. The New South Wales courts applied the reasoning in Re Polemis & Furness, Withy & Co Ltd [1921] 3 KB 560 regarding the question of remoteness. In Re Polemis, a ship was also involved. That ship had ben chartered to take cargo to Furness, and had encountered rough weather en route. As a result, there was gas vapour present below decks. Whilst the ship was being unloaded, a plank was knocked into the hold by the port stevedores. The plank caused a spark –which ignited the gas vapour, burning the ship down.

Subsequent legal action saw Furness dock admit their negligence- but they claimed that the outcome of the negligence (the plank falling) was so remote (the whole ship burning down), that liability should be negated. The Court of Appeal rejected this argument, stating that the actor of any negligent action is liable for any direct outcomes of their action, foreseeable or not.

Applying the Re Polemis principle, the New South Wales courts found Overseas Tankship liable for the damages. Overseas Tankship appealed to the British House of Lords, and the Privy Council. The Privy Council found in favour of the ship owners.

Re Polemis had been perceived by many as unfair in its definition of remoteness. With The Wagon Mound, the Privy Council sought to update the rules of remoteness, and went as far as to state that the principle in Re Polemis was “out of the current of contemporary thought”. Whilst agreeing the Overseas Tankship was indeed guilty of a breach, that could foreseeably have caused some damage, the court found that the extensive fire and damage done to Mort’s Dock was not foreseeable to the reasonable man. As such, the Privy Council dismissed the appeal, and found that the defendant crew of the Wagon Mound was not liable for the damage to Mort’s Dock. Further, the famous test for remoteness, that of reasonable foreseeability, was born. Under that test, the kind and type of damage done by the negligent breach of the actor must be reasonably foreseeable.

Since that fire in Sydney Harbour in 1951, and the Privy Council verdict a decade later, tort law has had the rule that any damage done to another party must have been reasonably foreseeable by those responsible. That element of remoteness of damage needs to be present in all tort cases for a successful claim. Cases involving medical negligence, accidents, personal injury, even accidents at work all need to have that element of reasonable foreseeability.

Taking as an example a work accident claim, the injury done must be reasonably foreseeable by the person responsible for the breach. Under health and safety law, all and every precaution must be taken to ensure the safety of all those in the workplace; if that is breached, in most cases the inured party can make a claim against those responsible, or their employer. Amidst all the criteria of tort law, reasonable foreseeability is one matter that the personal injury lawyer will look for.

That test of reasonable foreseeability, be it in an accident at work claim or a trespass claim, is all due to an incorrectly closed tap on a freighter in Australia, and the crazy chain of events that followed.

Irish Judge Sentences Young Offender to Drawing

We’ve spoken before about weird sentences and punishments that have been handed down in the history of the law around the world. From the judge who sentenced a man to celebrate his wife’s birthday to the rap music fan who was sentenced to twenty hours of classical music, the minds of judges around the world have come up with some pretty strange and creative sentences.

Now, a new example has emerged from the courtrooms of the Emerald Isle. A judge in Derry (or technically Londonderry – that matter is controversial at the moment) has ordered a 16-year-old offender to return to the court for another three days. This isn’t because his trial is dragging on, but because the judge decided to sentence the boy to spend three days pictures of him and of the solicitors while they get on with other cases.

What was the Crime?

The crime was a fairly simple one, but one which might leave you struggling all the harder to see how art is an appropriate or logical sentence. The boy was arrested after he failed a drugs test carried out by the police and admitted to cannabis use. He appeared at Londonderry Magistrates’ Court to be tried for his use of a restricted substance. It was there that he appeared before the District Judge, Barney McElholm, who came up with the creative pencil-based punishment.

One part of the sentence did bear a clear relation to the crime. Mr McElholm made it clear that any suspicion of further drug use during the time he spends as unofficial court artist will have repercussions for the young man. “If you look stoned,” he warned, “you will be arrested.”

So Why the Art?

Most of the other bizarre sentences we’ve talked about here are in some way fitting to the crime. The woman who abandoned kittens in the woods was sentenced to spend the night there herself to understand how those animals felt. The man who was ordered to celebrate his wife’s birthday appeared in court after a string of events which started with his forgetting her birthday. But drug use and drawing portraits of the judge… the connection isn’t quite so clear.

As it happens, the judge’s creative reasoning this time wasn’t sparked by the crime itself, nor by a desire to start looking for a new, less gruesome definition of “hanged, drawn and quartered.” It seems the young boy has something of a talent for drawing and the judge was very impressed. So impressed, that he decided the boy should have the opportunity to earn a second chance through his skills as an artist. There’s no guarantee he won’t face further, more conventional punishment, but for now the sentence handed down by Mr McElholm is this: “bring with you a sketch pad and a pencil and you can draw me and the solicitors for two hours each day. Only me and the solicitors, and I will review the matter on Wednesday.”

How Your Favourite Fictional Lawyers have Lied to You

There are quite a few inspiring lawyers in fiction. Maybe you’re a fan of the mixed team of lawyers and police officers on Law & Order: UK. Perhaps you’re more interested in To Kill a Mockingbird‘s Atticus Finch, either in the original book or in one of the film adaptations. Or maybe you play computer games and have enjoyed the many times Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney has entered the courtrooms of Japan.

The thing is, as entertaining as fictional lawyers may be, they often give you a very inaccurate picture of life in the legal world. Some of the ways that your favourite legal dramas may have misled you about life at the Bar include:

It’s All About the Courtrooms

Criminal advocates and prosecution counsels make for good drama. Lawyers who spend their days poring over contracts rarely do. Divorce lawyers occupy a space somewhere in the middle, but they’re usually secondary characters and for the sake of drama most fictional divorces are likely to end up in the courtroom anyway.

Fair enough. Focus on the lawyers that will actually make for interesting TV programmes and films. Nothing wrong with that. Except that TV and films almost universally have a tendency to oversimplify the legal profession and make it seem as if all lawyers are courtroom advocates. On top of this, they make it look like court appearances are the main focus of the job.

Defence Lawyers Always Champion the Innocent

Defence lawyers are an integral part of justice. The point of a trial is to establish somebody’s guilt, and the principle of “innocent until proven guilty” is central to maintaining a fair system. In order for everyone to receive fair and balanced treatment, which fully reflects the circumstances of their case, they need to enter the courtroom with trained professionals to provide both sides of the argument.

This is true whether the person is guilty or not. Defence lawyers have to do the best job they can for all clients – even the guilty ones – or the system would not be a fair one and courts would not receive a complete picture of the case. However, according to the majority of legal fictions, defence lawyers don’t provide any service at all to the guilty. They just champion the innocent with every single case. Sometimes, they will defend somebody who seems obviously guilty because they somehow just know there’s more to it – and sure enough they will prove that person innocent. Rarely do fictional defence lawyers find themselves sticking up for a serial killer who was caught by the police gloating over the body of his final victim while still holding the knife.