Music festivals and the law - a guide

Music festivals and the law - a guide

Words: Ronnie MacEwan. Lawyer*

The festival season is upon us, around us, in us and generally up in our jimmies. So what could be more fun than considering how the law can fuck up the fun like rain on your wedding day, or ten thousand spoons when all you need is a god-damn knife? The answer is: taking me on a date. That is the only thing funner. That aside, what legal perils await beyond the festival gate?

Consider the amount of illicit substances, reckless party-time behaviour, extensive terms and conditions that no one reads, psychotic numbskull security guards, intense police officers one day before retirement, and general chaos of 10,000+ spoons people assembled in a paddock/showground/ski-field. Add all that up and you’ve got more issues than a 24-hour marathon viewing of old Degrassi episodes.

As your lawyer, I advise you to stay home. The world is a hot-bed of risk, and while that may sound tantalising (and a little arousing) bad stuff will happen if you join in. However, as your good-time-party-guru-who-you-are-going-to-take-on-a-date-call-me-maybe, I advise you to take a few minutes to read this informational pamphlet which is in no way to be confused for actual legal advice—if you get in trouble, you’re on your own.


Q. It’s raining too much. I want a refund.

The show must go on, no refunds generally. Even in the event the gig is cancelled, the organisers may have a ‘force majeure’ clause which means they won’t be liable if an act of god intervenes preventing them from performing their end of the bargain. However, they may give a refund if the negative PR storm from cancelling looks to be worse than the actual storm.

Q. Planning on taking the drug that killed River Phoenix? Inspired by Breaking Bad to take up crystal meth? Hey dummy, what happens if you’re caught?!

Police can only make a charge stick if you’re in actual possession (which means: custody and control and you knew about it) of an illicit substance. Possession can include being the unfortunate sucker (don’t excuse the pun, it’s good) of a joint which has been passed around the entire amphitheatre/barn. Musical joints if you will.

So what are the penalties for some of the favouritist drugs down under? A good rule of Dr Green Thumb is that the maximum penalty for any drug in non-traffickable quantity of a drug is 30 penalty units (a PU is currently $140.84 in Victoria) and/ or one year imprisonment.

Unless it’s a drug that the police are in the habit of giving warnings for, such as marijuana, you will also have conviction recorded which will hurt your job prospects and your future will be in ruins.

In sum, look out for this guy:

His stuff is really, really good.

Q. Can the police search my tent?

God, I don’t know, this is so confusing. The police can search you if they reasonably suspect you have drugs, weapons, explosives, graffiti tools, or the meaning of life. ‘Reasonable’ is a word that gets used a lot in the legal world but no-one knows what it means. From what I’ve seen I think it’s unreasonable to not suspect every second person at a festival of packing drugs on or in them.

Police generally can’t search private property, such as your home, without a warrant or consent. The festival is probably on private property, but in order to get planning approval the owner will probably have given permission for the police to be on it. Does that include all the tents of their paying guests? Is a tent even like a home, or is it more like a pegged down backpack? Even if it’s the latter there are a lot of restrictions on the police’s right to go through it.

I’m going to take a legal hunch and declare in many uncertain terms that your tent is likely considered private property, so they’d need a warrant to inspect inside. If they want to search your tent, or even just your fine body, always ask, “why?” They gots to tell you, and if they give an inappropriate reason, then you can use it later to fight the charges. Also bear in mind, the police can bypass the need for a warrant with consent, so if you’re not comfortable with them searching, just give the same answer you give when someone offers you drugs: no. Make them justify the legal basis for it.

If you left the tent unzipped and the door flapping open however, it’s not unlawful for them, or anyone else for that matter, to look in. So bear that in mind if a particularly strong line of bath salts has you rocketing out of the tent and down to the band stage without attending to your housekeeping.

Listen to Freddy Sharp, please don’t take bath salts:

Q. If I get drunk and fall asleep in someone’s tent is that trespassing?

Trespass must be wilful, i.e. you knew what the fuck you were doing. If you stumbled into an empty tent and fell asleep because you could only see 2cm in front of your face (and what you did see was complete nonsense) we can safely say you were un-full of will.

It becomes trespass the moment they ask you to leave and you don’t within a reasonable amount of time. Or if you wake up and realise you’re somewhere you shouldn’t be – neglecting to leave puts your arse into trespass. Just say, “Hey! Wha’ Happen?” and calmly leave.

I would suggest that if you do fall asleep in someone’s tent, do it under a pile of clothes or tent stuff. That way it’ll take them longer to notice you and it won’t be at all creepy when they do. Of course, if you’re going to this amount of effort then its likely wilful again.

Penalty in Victoria: 25 penalty units or six months in jail.

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