In Guyana, the law on “noise nuisance” to individuals is contained in Sub-section 1 of Section 174A of the Summary Jurisdiction (Offences) Act, as amended by Act No. 1 of 1989: “No person shall, in any road, street, public place or land, or in building or premises, by operating or causing or suffering to be operated any stereo set, juke box, radio, wireless loudspeaker, gramophone, amplifier, automatic piano or similar instrument of music, or by any other means whatsoever, make, or cause or suffer to be made, any noise which shall be so loud and so continuous or repetitive as to cause a nuisance to occupants of any premises in the neighbourhood.”
A “nuisance” is basically something that causes some level of inconvenience or annoyance to a person. Few Guyanese today would dispute that the law, having been enacted over one-quarter of a century ago, does not cater for the wonders of electronic creation, projection and amplification of noise that today bombards the unwary citizen. Over the last decade, the complaints to the press by citizens from all across the country have become more frequent, and more pertinently, increasingly desperate.
It is clear that the law has not served as a deterrent to the offence, much less to its eradication; and there have been calls, all the way up to a Committee in the last Parliament, for amendments to encompass the present circumstance.
Subsection (2) of Section 174A of the Summary Jurisdiction (Offences) Act, as amended by Act No.10 of 1998, deals with penalties, and states: “Any person who contravenes the provision of Subsection (1) shall be liable, on summary conviction, to a fine of not less than ,500, nor more than ,000, and to imprisonment for six months; and on a second or any subsequent conviction, to a fine of not less than ,000 and to imprisonment for 12 months”.
Even when the law is applied by the police against offenders in front of the magistracy, which is more done in the breach, a slap-on-the-wrist nominal fine might be pronounced, but never the 12-month incarceration. And this for an offence which, while described as a “nuisance”, can actually cause severe pain to victims and what is described as “noise-induced hearing loss” (NIHL), which can even be permanent.
The “loudness” of sounds, which actually describes the vibrational energy it transmits via air to human ear, is described in “decibels”, abbreviated “db”. But the ear is sensitive to such a large range of vibrations that if a soft whisper is considered “0”, it would take 3000 miles on a linear scale to place the latter. Decibels are a logarithmic scale to which ordinary conversations at 60 are acceptable, but sustained sounds above 90 decibels – like revving motorcycles – can cause NIHL. A car or home stereo can deliver 120 decibels – most of it in the bass range – which can vibrate the walls of the home and certainly lead not just to loss of sleep to fretful neighbours, but NIHL, if it is sustained for hours. The damage to some sensitive hairs in the inner ear are incremental.
The aborted efforts to amend the laws on “noise nuisance” must recommence forthwith, and must begin with a renaming of the offence to signal its new dangers posed by the new and ubiquitous arsenal of mass noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). “Noise Violence and Assault” is respectful?y submitted, since it is no different from other physical assaults, except that sound is not visible, while fists are. Fines must range from 0,000 — 0,000, and non-discretionary sentencing must be imposed with the second conviction.
The Music and Dancing Licensing Act, Chapter 23:03 must also be coordinated with the proposed “Noise Violence and Assault Act”, to move beyond the 2am curfew and encompass stricter guidelines to cater for residential peace. NIHL can also be precipitated from sudden intense noise surges.