The Noise Abatement Act of 1997 prevents the unwarranted creation of sounds in any public or private setting during a restricted period, in order to mitigate the commission of public disturbance. The types of sounds which are prohibited under the Act include singing, playing or sounding a musical or noisy instrument, operating a loudspeaker or microphone or any other device used for the amplification of sound.
Once these sounds are generated within one hundred (100) metres of the vicinity of any dwelling house, hospital, nursing home, infirmary, hotel or guest house, then the Act will raise a presumption of a ‘public annoyance’…and you can expect the police will be there to “lock off your sound.” The above-mentioned restricted periods include the hours between two (2) AM to six (6) AM on Fridays and Saturdays and twelve (12) AM to six (6) AM on Sundays and on weekdays. If a person intends to operate equipment to provide music or engage in other forms of entertainment in a public place, where there is a reasonable capability of causing disturbance, then that person should apply for a permit from the Superintendent of Police for that Division not less than 10 hours prior to the event. Nevertheless under no circumstances will the Superintendent, grant a permit for activities in the vicinity of a hospital, infirmary, or nursing home nor will the activity be permissible after two (2) AM.
Two issues arise in respect of the Act: that of enforceability and uniformity. Take the following illustration:
In one instance in 2009, a popular local promoter ‘Pringle’ who hosted a Bob Marley Birthday tribute in Negril, inclusive of performers such as Bunny Wailer was required to appear before the Resident Magistrate’s Court and to pay a fine of $50,000 for contravention of the Act. In the same year, Negril hosted the annual Miami/New York Link Up Crew’s ‘Spring Break 2009’ at Long Bay Beach Park, located on the hotel strip at which several policemen were in attendance. In this instance however, the show was allowed to continue until 5:30 a.m. without sanction.
In an article by the Jamaica Information Service dated June 13 2013, Member of Parliament (MP) for South East St. Elizabeth, Richard Parchment called for amendments to be made to the Act. He states: “I think this Act should be reviewed to take into consideration certain venues, which could be classified as ‘designated venues’. It would seem that there is selective application of the law as certain events are allowed to go all night while others cannot…” The MP raises the issue of enforceability, and alludes to corruption as some police officers exercise discretion depending on how much money is in the host’s pocket.
Events such as Reggae Sumfest and Jazz and Blues receive exemptions from complying with the Act. The two events are generators of income for the tourist industry and benefit numerous members of society- from the more affluent members to the vendors on the street corner. Despite the fact that, section 7 does give the Minister the power to make regulations for the purpose of the Act, the application and enforcement of the law will be inconsistent and will perpetually raise allegations of bias. Arguably, where a Minister uses his discretion, to sterilise the enforcement of the Act for certain events, this indicates that the Act of 1997 does not give effect to the views and interests of modern society.
In an attempt to curtail the shortcomings of the Act, the Minister of Tourism and Entertainment, Damion Crawford has sought to implement a zoning system which will provide greater guidelines for the enforcement of the Act based on location. In an article written in the Jamaica Observer, dated July 5, 2013, the MP indicated that he wishes to implement four zones labelled A-D: Zones A which are close to hospitals, Zones B which are highly residential, Zones C which are commercial areas, and Zones D which are 24-hour areas.
The issues surrounding the Act suggest that it would better serve the public if it were amended so as to represent the changing views of today’s society and provide greater consistency, in regard to balancing the rights of promoters and patrons, and that of the Jamaican citizen who wants some peace and quiet.