EDITORIAL - Law and public decency


Should he find the time to reflect further on it, the Honourable Minister of Culture, Mr Stephen Lashley, will readily concede that his response of “It’s not illegal” was a surprisingly  inadequate one to those who had complained that some of the costumes worn in the Grand Kadooment street parade on August 1 were too revealing or “skimpy” as it was put. 
Among the protestors was veteran bandleader and designer, Ms Betty West, who expressed dismay at the number of semi-nude women on the road, especially those of a certain size. Her counterpart, Ms Gwyneth Squires, was of a similar view, regretful that “the police did not lock up” some of those in the more revealing costumes. Other bandleaders consoled themselves that they were simply giving the people what they wanted; a twisted scenario of the tail wagging the dog, where the reveller becomes both the designer and bandleader. Indeed, there were reports that some revellers had adjusted their assigned costumes to suit their individual tastes, inevitably of a more revealing nature.
Apart from the suggestion that the police should have locked up some of the more egregious offenders, the complaints generally appear to relate more to a question of public decency rather than that of criminal conduct, a much more complex and subjective area.
Nevertheless, the Minister, who is legally trained, sought to revert to the letter of the law to respond, offering his legal opinion that those people who wore revealing costumes during the street parade were “well within the law”. He may very well be right as a matter of strict law, although we would be loath to determine what is to be considered decent for public exposure purely on the basis of whether it is criminally indecent. 
In most circumstances, an infringement of law of indecent exposure requires the showing of the genitals in the case of men, and the internal genitalia in the case of women; a reality that would be abhorrent to most Barbadians viewing the parade.
However, public decency is ordinarily to be assessed by community standards that may be based on religion, morality or tradition. In fine, whether the behaviour in question is repulsive to the public. There is, we submit therefore, a difference between indecent behaviour that is repugnant to right-thinking  society and indecent exposure that invites criminal sanction, although there exists of course some intersection between the two concepts.
The sometimes-stark contrast between what the average individual may consider as indecent and what the law deems it to be is best seen in the exposure of the female breasts. While this occurrence at Kadooment would be, we assume,  frowned upon by most, even when covered in paint as has happened previously, it is, at best, a moot point whether it would constitute an indecent exposure in law since the breasts are clearly not genitals. 
The tendency to “push the envelope” is rampant in modern day society, and the Minister’s words may give some comfort to some of these individuals who intend to test local tolerance with the exposure of as much of their bodies as they are allowed to without falling foul of the law. 
The Minister’s further query as to how does one go about policing what people should wear does seem an odd one, given his earlier assertion that “the NCF has rules and regulations regulating what type of costumes people can wear”. We should expect that these regulations are not mere carbon copies of the legal provisions on indecent exposure and that they go much further in the public interest.

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