In this case note:

  • Access to Justice
  • The Court system (appeals)
  • Arbitrary use of power

Gary the Goat Case – The Court System and the Appeals Process

Comedian James Dezarnaulds a.k.a Jimbo Bazoobi was issued a $440 fine on August 22 2013 after his goat, Gary, was seen by police eating grass outside the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney.

The fine was for damaging vegetation without authority. Jimbo appealed the fine and a date was set for a court hearing.

Wishing to avoid court Jimbo wrote to the Commander of the Rocks police station asking for the fine to be dropped. In his letter Jimbo claimed that he appealed the fine because;

a) “it wasn’t me, it was my goat” and;

b) “My goat wasn’t damaging vegetation. He was simply taking the top off some grass plust [sic] some leaves off some bushes (next to some council workers with a lawnmower and clippers who were doing the same thing.)”

The case proceeded to court and the Magistrate ruled in favour of Jimbo and Gary.

The Magistrate said that while Gary did eat plants it could not be proved that Jimbo had brought Gary to the MCA with the intention of vandalising the plants or that Jimbo put Gary up to the act.

Gary’s lawyer said that police had issued the wrong infringement notice as the fine issued applied to people and not to goats.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported that “The goat, who was met by a throng of reporters outside court, was not required to give evidence and made no comment on the verdict.”

This case highlights the rule of law principle of access to justice as Jimbo and Gary utilised the appeals system to seek justice.

Gary the Goat Case – The Use of Arbitrary Power

In his letter to the police Jimbo claimed that “I was surrounded by Shane and about four other police officers … Shane immediately started telling me that I’d broken a whole lot of laws. I then asked,’ well can you name one?’ … He then spent over an hour detaining me while he tried to tell me what law I’d broken … He couldn’t get me for an out of control animal because my goat wasn’t out of control. He couldn’t get me for not having it on a leash because it wasn’t a dog …

In the end he let me go saying he was going to continue to find a law that I had broken and send the fine in the mail to me.”

As retold by Jimbo this story highlights a number of rule of law issues.

a) That the law must be known and able to be followed.

The confusion over the actual charge, and the eventual dismissal of the charge since it applied to humans and not goats, demonstrates that the law in question is not known or able to followed. If a law is enforced it should be known by the community in advance.

b) That the law should be used in a predictable and fair manner.

Arbitrary use of power is contrary to the rule of law. Laws should apply equally to all and not be used arbitrarily to target specific individuals – and their goats.

Discussion Questions:

1. What non-legal measures did Jimbo take in an effort to have the fine dropped?

2. What legal measures did Jimbo take to have the fine dropped?

3. Did you know it was illegal to destroy flowers? What laws are you unsure of? Click here for a list of 10 weird laws in Australia.

4. How should police enforce laws that are not known by the community?

5. What steps could be taken to publicise laws that are not well known?

6. What issues arise from using laws in an arbitrary manner?