I hear you knocking

By | 9 December 2016

This 1970 Christmas no.1 is particularly apt for the past year for the Law Library. ‘I hear you knocking’ indeed: what with all the drilling, hammering, mess and disruption, it’s amazing that anyone got anything done. We (readers and staff) cannot wait to get back to our understanding of “quiet enjoyment” of a library. Our resources and services remained on offer to our readers throughout, and our saga is recorded here, on the renovations blog, where a quick search for the term ‘noise’ comes up with 29 matches, a snapshot of how this issue has plagued us throughout the refurbishment. Thankfully, the end is in sight, with the Law Library looking forward to a new term with the renovations complete; but noise and noise regulation is still an important part of library life. Here’s the low-down on the law surrounding issues like this.

The Law Library entrance a few months ago...

The Law Library entrance a few months ago…

...and the Law Library entrance now!

…and the Law Library entrance now!

Probably the best place for Westlaw aficionados to start is on the ‘insight’ section on Westlaw UK, which can be found here (you’ll have to be already logged in to Westlaw to follow this link). Insight is an area of Westlaw designed to get you up and running on a new area of law, and it provides an overview including important acts, cases, and legislation. For Lexis®Library lovers, of course, there’s full access to Halsbury’s statutes here to get you up and running on all the different areas that noise comes under. Basically, the law will be after you either way, whether you’ve deafened your great-aunt by flying a noisy model aircraft right by her ear or done the same with a real aircraft.

Three important acts are: Environmental Protection Act 1990, Control of Pollution Act 1974, Noise Act 1996, and the Antisocial Behaviour etc. (Scotland) Act 2004 also touches on noise nuisance for those north of the border. All of these acts can be found on our databases Westlaw and Lexis®Library and on the free access legislation.gov, although the latter will not always be up-to-date. A book like Adam and McManus’s “Noise and Noise Law” held here at KN97.72.ADA 1994, though not the most recent, could also be pretty useful in pointing us in the right direction on the technical definitions of noise (great for anyone who loves graphs and scientific discussions of decibels). Noise can be considered part of English common law dealing with pollution, as this article by Kasuga in the Journal of Urban History explains: from the Act on Smoke Abatement of 1821 thanks to such industrial novelties as the steam press, we get legal actions surrounding pollution that are part of the history of today’s environmental law – although, as Adams and McManus say, “In the development of environmental law, noise control is indeed the Cinderella”. Make of that what you will.

With that focus on industry there are the health and safety ramifications of noise, so employment law is also relevant. Here, exploring the Official Papers collection could be handy, where dwell such creatures as a series of health and safety booklets produced by Her Majesty’s Stationary Office, including “Noise at work: noise assessment, information and control”. The Official Papers collection is on the ground floor of the Law Library, and has a team of librarians willing to help find material if need be. Down in our newly modified ground floor you’ll also find the graduate study room, several discussion rooms and an IT room, all good for some nice, quiet study.


The mysterious realm of Official Papers

Searching in the Journal of Legal Studies for noise, either online or at shelfmark USA 300 J150, will show you that noise legislation in its earlier form had more of a focus on statutory nuisance. English land law emphasised the right of landowners to have quiet enjoyment; private nuisance has been around since Henry III. There’s also public nuisance, which is dealt with under the Licensing Act 2003 and has recently been investigated in a Law Commission Report on “Simplification of the Criminal Law: Public Nuisance and Outraging Public Decency”, available on gov.uk. But in today’s world it’s also likely to be considered as an area of criminal and human rights law: the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 allows police to shut down ‘raves’, where “‘music’ includes sounds wholly or predominantly characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats”, while the EU Human Rights Act of 1998 included the principle of respect for private lives (Article 8) which played a part in cases such as Hatton v United Kingdom, where the right to enjoy quiet privacy from night flights out of Heathrow Airport was discussed.

When searching in the Law Library for information on noise, you’re not going to find much in one place. There’s the section at KN 97.72 that’s dedicated to noise pollution in environmental law; there’s KN 185.315 for noise pollution in environmental health private law (though sadly this seems a bit underrepresented—an opening for a new book perhaps?); KN 198.5 for noise in employment law; and KN 38.81 in case you want to know about suing for “noise, vibration, and sonic booms”.

Maybe we should all use noise prevention techniques, such as suspension for vehicle and rubber tyres, or attempting to ban the tooting of car horns, as Vienna introduced in the 1820s. This article by Payer in the Journal of Urban History has some delightful history on the rising problem of noise in Vienna as it was modernising. But whether you believe that noise pollution is “narcotic imbibed by modern man in an attempt to dispel the void of his personal existence”, as Theodor Lessing did, or that “It is the mental stimulation of our days and the lullaby of our nights” like Ludwig Hirschfeld, one thing’s for sure: here in the Law Library we like things quiet.


Mugs and signs available from the Bodleian Shop – the perfect library gift…