Tuesday, March 02, 2010

A victory for freedom of expression

It's official: riding your bike naked is not offensive behaviour:

Naked cyclist Nick Lowe has successfully appealed against a conviction and fine for riding his bike nude near Upper Hutt.

Mr Lowe was convicted of offensive behaviour and fined $200 and $130 court costs after he was stopped by police while riding his bike naked on the Akatarawa Rd, north of Upper Hutt on March 15 last year - 'World Nude Bike Day'.

A female motorist had complained to police after seeing him and later told the court she was ''fairly disgusted'' when she saw him.

Mr Lowe appealed the conviction to the High Court.

In a ruling released today, Justice Clifford said Mr Lowe's nakedness had not met the test of offensive behaviour and he quashed the conviction and fine.

I'm still waiting for the judgement to show up on the web, but I expect s14 of the Bill of Rights, affirming freedom of expression, had something to do with it. How you dress (or in this case, not dress) is expressive behaviour, which means the law has to tread carefully and only impose "such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society". In this case, its hard to see how anyone is harmed; while someone was offended, the test isn't actual offence, but reasonable offence. And a tolerant and reasonable person with a proper respect for freedom of expression confronted with a naked cyclist would simply shrug their shoulders and try not to think about sunburn or sandflies.

So, its not illegal to ride your bike naked, and its not illegal to hold a topless motorcycle parade. I wonder how long it will take police to get the memo...?