Weird old laws can still trap the unwary

By Andrew Koubaridis, Craig Borley

Budding atomic prospectors beware: if you find uranium in New Zealand and don't report it - in writing - to the Government within three months, you've broken the law.

You'll have to reveal the site of your discovery in your report too. It's all in the Atomic Energy Act, 1945.

Auckland landowners should keep a tight hold on their backyards, too.

If your vegetable garden falls in an ideal area for a Waitemata-to-Manukau harbour canal, it may just be confiscated.

That's right, a canal. Across Auckland. Using the Auckland and Manukau Canal Act, 1908, the Auckland Harbour Board can "purchase or take or otherwise acquire" land for the purpose of constructing a harbour-to-harbour canal.

It can take the land "from time to time, either within or without the limits of its jurisdiction".

Worried?

These laws are two examples of the myriad arcane acts on New Zealand's statute books.

Chances are you haven't heard of them, and now the Law Commission is hoping to remove redundant laws and tidy up ones that have been amended so many times they're too confusing to read - even for lawyers.

There is a Hawkes Bay Earthquake Act, 1931, and a District Railways Purchasing Act, 1885.

Law Commissioner Professor John Burrows, QC, told the Weekend Herald acts were scattered throughout the statute books and the relationship between them was often unclear.

"It's hard to piece them all together. They can be combined together, redrafted and presented in a much simpler form."

The Law Commission has set out to tidy up New Zealand's statute book, which it says is well short of the desired standard.

And that could mean some old laws could go.

Some of the acts are drafted in such dense and wordy style they are considered too confusing to read, often existing side by side with the more modern acts and provisions.

While some of the acts need tidying up, others are so old they are probably obsolete.

"I wouldn't think there would be too many of them but there are some," said Professor Burrows.

Those acts could be removed because they needlessly cluttered the law, but countries like England had more ... "There's some weird old things there."

Not that some strange laws haven't been drafted in this country.

Professor Burrows said one law he had discovered from exactly 100 years ago, the Mercantile Agents Act, 1908, required shopkeepers to use red ink to write the price on books or magazines that were sold in instalments.

"There are a few funny little things out there."

Another was the Military Manoeuvre Act, 1915. Professor Burrows said he was not sure if it was still needed but acts like it should be looked at to see if they were still relevant or were just wasting space.

The Law Commission will publish its report within the next two months but it will take an Act of Parliament to authorise any changes.

- NZ Herald

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