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NSW Draft Code of Practice for Dance Parties

7. Legal Issues With Dance Parties

While Dance parties are legitimate forms of public entertainment, poorly planned Dance parties can create legal problems for promoters, patrons, local Councils, the Police and neighbouring residents, when Dance parties:

  • occur without Council approval;
  • occur on premises without the owner's consent;
  • take place in unsafe buildings (e.g. fire hazard);
  • result in injury to patrons at the Dance party
  • involve the unlicensed sale of liquor;
  • involve underage drinking or illegal drug taking;
  • involve drug dealing;
  • involve very loud noise;
  • result in anti-social behaviour in the neighbourhood as patrons arrive and/or leave the party;
  • cause traffic disruption and danger as patrons move onto roads as they leave the party;
  • result in drunk/drug driving or drunk/drug walking accidents after the event.

Laws exist to make sure that Dance parties take place in locations that are suitable, with limited impact on residential areas, in buildings that are sound, with adequate exits and with public safety measures in place.

This Section gives advice on some of the reasons that can cause legal problems for Dance parties, so that promoters can avoid them through good planning. This Section also explains some of the major powers and responsibilities of government agencies and promoters when legal issues arise. By forward planning and discussion with the relevant authorities, as detailed in this Code, most of the problems set out below can be avoided, resulting in a legally hassle free and successful Dance party.

Legal Issues Before A Dance Party Starts

The Environmental Planning & Assessment Act

There is likely to be a breach of planning laws where the party would:

  • be outside of the existing conditions of consent; or
  • require consent, but it has not been obtained, or
  • not be allowed given the area's zone.

In these cases, any person, including the local Council, can take legal action under section 123 of the EP&A Act in the Land and Environment Court, to restrain (stop) the holding of the event, through applying for an injunction.

The Local Government Act

If a planned party constitutes or is likely to constitute a life threatening hazard, or a threat to public health or public safety, and it is not regulated or controlled under any other Act by a public authority, a Council could use Order No. 15 of section 124 of the LG Act to require the promoter not to conduct, or to stop conducting, the Dance party. Order No. 15 may be served directly on the promoter without any warning.

A Council may abate (stop) a public nuisance, or order a person responsible for a public nuisance to stop (Section 125, LG Act). An example would be where very loud noise will affect the neighbourhood. This would apply particularly where the law prohibits the carrying out of the activity, or requires that a permitted activity must be conducted in a particular way, and these requirements are not being met.

Liquor Laws

If the Dance party is to be held on licensed premises, under the Liquor Act or Registered Clubs Act, the premises may be closed down for 72 hours or up to six months. This action may be taken where there is:

  • a threat to public health or safety;
  • a risk of substantial damage to property;
  • a significant threat to the environment; or
  • a risk of serious offences being committed on the premises.

If promoters seek a licence to sell liquor at a proposed Dance party, and strong evidence exists that illegal drugs are to be sold or supplied to patrons at the Dance party, or evidence exists that promoters had failed at previous Dance parties to prevent drug abuse by patrons, this could lead the Director of Liquor and Gaming to object to the granting of a licence.

Legal Issues When A Dance Party Is In Progress

The Environmental Planning & Assessment Act

There is no power under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act to close down an event in progress.

The Local Government Act

Council Orders
Councils can issue orders that prohibit the doing of things to or on premises (section 124 of the LG Act). The most relevant orders are:

  • for life threatening hazards, a threat to public health or public safety which is not regulated under any other Act, may be issued immediately - Order No. 15;
  • related to fire safety or fire awareness, may be served on the building owner - Order No. 4.; and
  • requiring the stopping of the use of, or the evacuation of, premises may also be issued immediately in an emergency. (Otherwise a "show cause" procedure applies in advance of the serving of these two orders) - Order No. 16.

Fire Brigades officers may also issue Order No.4 in relation to exits or essential services provisions in buildings.

If a person fails to comply with an order, this is an offence under section 628 of the LG Act with penalties of between $2,000 to $5,000 (or double in the case of a corporation).

Court Orders
Councils may also bring Court proceedings for an order to remedy or restrain a breach of the LG Act (section 673). In addition, the abatement of public nuisances (section 125) may also be used.

Failure to comply with an Order
Where a person fails to comply with the terms of an order, the Council may do all things that are necessary to give effect to the terms of the order (section 678), including the carrying out of any work required by the order. While patrons cannot be removed from the premises, this provision can authorise a council employee to turn off music, stop light shows etc. Circumstances may enable a Council to apply to the Court to stop a public nuisance or order a person responsible for making a public nuisance to stop.

Noise Control Act

Some Dance parties have led to noise complaints from residents living between two and ten kilometres away from the venue.

  • Noise Abatement Directions can be issued by local Council employees, or the Police. Failure to comply with the Direction can result in a fine and in extreme situations, may result in arrest.
  • the Environmental Protection Authority may issue noise control notices.
  • the Police have powers under Common Law to arrest and detain a person committing or about to commit a breach of the peace, such as in some cases, making an offensive noise.
  • residents can make a written complaint to the Liquor Administration Board if Dance parties on licensed premises cause disturbance to the neighbourhood.
Some other Police powers

Police Officers of the rank of Sergeant and above, have a power of entry into an indoor Dance party for inspecting the premises and, if necessary to test equipment, under the Theatres and Public Halls Act. Section 6 of the Police Service Act, requires Police officers to prevent and detect crime, to protect people from injury or death, and to protect property from damage. Police officers can use this power to take action to secure the safety of patrons and property, including closing down the Dance party, if necessary.

Illegal drugs at Dance parties will attract an increased police presence. A Police officer has the power under the Drug Misuse and Trafficking Act to stop, search and detain any person or vehicle which the officer reasonably suspects is in possession of, or contains, an illegal drug.

Liquor Laws

The Liquor Act (section 104) and Registered Clubs Act (section 17AA) enable the making of complaints by neighbours and others such as the Police or local Council, if a registered club or licensed premise creates problems, such as noise or the violent or anti-social behaviour of patrons in and around the premises. The penalties include reducing the premises' trading hours, prohibiting the admission of patrons after a certain time, and restricting or prohibiting certain types of entertainment, such as those which involve loud music (such as Dance parties).

Under the Liquor and Registered Clubs Acts:

  • selling/supplying liquor to a minor (maximum penalty $5,000; or a maximum penalty of $10,000 and/or 12 months imprisonment);
  • selling liquor without a licence (maximum penalty $1,000 and/or 6 months imprisonment);
  • intoxication on licensed premises (maximum fine for the licensee $5,000);
  • serving alcohol to an intoxicated person on licensed premises (maximum penalty $5,000);
  • licensees or staff who permit the possession, sale or use of a prohibited substance on licensed premises (maximum penalty $5,000);

    Legal Issues After A Dance Party Has Ended

    The Environmental Planning & Assessment Act

    Action may be taken where a Dance party has been held which breached the planning laws. This is where the party:

    • failed to stay within the existing conditions of consent;
    • consent was required but not obtained;
    • the party was prohibited in the zone in which it was held.

    Under section 123, any person can take legal action in the Land and Environment Court for a breach of the EP&A Act to make orders, for example, to fix any environmental damage caused by an unauthorised Dance party.

    If an offence has been committed such as not complying with the consent conditions, section 125 allows a Council or a person specified in the Act or Regulations, to prosecute the offender in the Land and Environment Court or the Local Court. Fines of up to $100,000 can be awarded by the Land and Environment Court, and fines of up to $10,000 can be awarded by the Local Court.

    The Local Government Act

    Failure to get an approval needed under section 68 (which sets out what activities require an approval) is an offence under the LG Act. Section 626 (Failure to obtain approval) carries a penalty of $5,000 ($10,000 in the case of a corporation). Similarly, section 627 (Failure to comply with approval) carries penalties of up to $20,000 ($40,000 for a corporation). Section 628 (Failure to comply with an order) carries penalties of up to $5,000 ($10,000 for a corporation).

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