On the heels of Jamaica Carnival an examination of the Noise Abatement Act is perhaps timely. Whether the Act as it currently exists speaks volumes, or is it just too soft to be heard, is the subject of this article. To be clear, annual events such as Carnival and the like have their time and place, and therefore this article is instead focussed on the incessant loud music emanating from parts known and unknown seemingly in perpetuity, and how the Act has been constructed to deal with that.
Interestingly, it was less than three years ago that the BBC published an article entitled “Jamaica: The loudest island on the planet?” Though the article delved into aspects of Jamaican music as a cultural expression, it also addressed efforts to control loud music.
The Act is intended to form a buffer between citizens and the deafening sounds that interfere with the peace and quiet that many still maintain is a right.
Do Not Disturb
By law, no person ought to sing, play a musical or noisy instrument or operate or cause to be operated a loudspeaker, microphone or device for the amplification of sound from any private premises or public places at any time of day or night where the sound is audible within one hundred metres of the source of that sound.
The sound referred to is further qualified. If it is reasonably capable of causing annoyance to people during specified hours beyond the one hundred metre distance in the vicinity of any dwelling house, hospital, nursing home, infirmary, hotel or guest house then that sound is presumed to cause an annoyance.
The specified periods referred to above are between 2AM and 6AM on Saturday and Sunday, and Midnight to 6AM during the rest of the week.
In addition, loudspeakers are not to be operated later than 11PM at a public meeting and no later than midnight at a political meeting held between nomination day and the day next but one before Election Day.
A person who contravenes the abovementioned provisions shall be guilty of violating the public peace and is liable on summary conviction in a Resident Magistrates Court to a fine not exceeding fifteen thousand dollars or, in default of payment, up to three months imprisonment for a first offence. In the case of a second offence, the fine may be up to thirty thousand dollars or up to six months imprisonment if in default. For a subsequent offence the fine is up to fifty thousand dollars or a period of up to twelve months in prison if in default, and the equipment used may be forfeited.
The owner of the premises on which an offence has been committed does not escape liability if the owner was on the premises at the time the offence was committed and did not take reasonable steps to try to prevent the offence.
In the same instance, liability can also extend to the owner or operator of the equipment used in the commission of the offence.
Not without Permission
Anyone who intends to operate the sort of equipment referred to earlier for dancing or other entertainment in a public place where the music may disturb anyone occupying or living in the vicinity may apply, in writing, to the Superintendent of Police with responsibility for the area within whose discretion the decision lies. This should be done at least ten (10) days before the event. Of course, the application should state the nature and purpose of the event and where the event is near a hotel, dwelling house or guest house it must cease by 2AM.
In the event that the application is rejected, there is a process for appealing a decision of the Superintendent of Police which may be done through the Commissioner of Police. It should be noted that failure to comply with any condition of the Police (Superintendent or Commissioner) is an offence where one may be liable to a fine of up to one hundred thousand dollars or, in default of payment, imprisonment of up to six months.
No permission should be granted for the operation of the type of equipment referred to above, in the vicinity of a hospital, nursing home or infirmary.
Turn Down the Music
It is a regular occurrence when loud music is being played that a request is made for it to be turned down; but the person playing or operating the equipment fails to comply with the request. That failure to comply is an offence making the offender liable in a Resident Magistrate’s Court for a fine of up to twenty thousand dollars or, in default of payment, imprisonment of up to six months. The Act goes further to state that if a request is made for loud music to be turned down because of someone’s serious illness, or other reasonable cause, and that request is not complied with; the Police may actually seize and detain the equipment used.
The Act therefore, on the face of it, does provide clear guidelines, safeguards and the requisite power for anyone to have a good night’s sleep and a quiet Sunday afternoon. So, why then do people still complain? Why is the music still so loud, and whose fault is it? It is certainly not for lack of legislation.