Legislation You Probably Didn’t Know About

You may have heard that when Russia invaded Ukraine, some New Zealanders decided to travel there and take up arms to help defend Ukraine. But, in fact, it was actually illegal. Under the Mercenary Activities (Prohibition) Act 2004, being a mercenary in foreign conflict is not allowed. At the time the Act was passed, the minister Phil Goff said that mercenary activities are “effectively paid murder”.

To many people, this came as a surprise. But what other pieces of legislation might surprise you?

Noise control for whales

New Zealand has special protection for whales. Under the Marine Mammals Protection Regulations, “no person shall make any loud or disturbing noises near whales”. Making such noises can get you a fine of $10,000. Unfortunately, there’s no such fine for making loud or disturbing noises near people who are trying to sleep in your neighbourhood!

A few years ago, the Matariki fireworks display was postposed because of a visiting whale in Wellington harbour. The fireworks would have breached the regulations.

Being in possession of a book

In 2010, the Everything Marijuana Book was published. In 2013, it was banned in New Zealand because it encourages people to use marijuana – in other words, to commit a crime. Interestingly, being in possession of this book incurs a harsher penalty than actually growing or selling marijuana!

No rewards

If you lose something like your keys or wallet, don’t advertise that there’s a reward for its return. You risk a fine of $200.

Check your wallet

The maximum fine for failing to file the annual accounts of an incorporated society is still one shilling a day.

Touching up banknotes

Putting glasses or a moustache on Ed Hillary or the Queen is still not on.

Trapping burglars

Don’t go setting traps for burglars or anyone else. In fact, a police officer was electrocuted and seriously injured in such a trap when he answered a fire alarm. The person was sick of being burgled so they electrified their front gate.


If you were thinking about it, you’re not allowed carry out a nuclear weapon test in your backyard or anywhere else. If there’s anyone around to enforce the law afterwards, you could be looking at a fine of $1 million or ten years’ jail.

Slimming down

In an effort to control the New Zealand’s obesity problem, you can be refused a visa to enter New Zealand if your BMI is too high.

Guns and Buddhists

Self-defence is not a good-enough reason to get a firearms licence. Shooting things is OK though. Except this isn’t quite true. Under English laws that are still in force in New Zealand, “Protestants may have arms for their defence suitable to their conditions”. No such rights if you’re a Catholic or a Buddhist.


Compared with other countries, New Zealand is pretty good at updating its laws. When the Summary Offences Act replaced the Police Offences Act in 1981, the Act got rid of a lot of offences around dodgy kite-flying, vindictive bell-ringing, and using dogs to drive farm vehicles. In 2017, New Zealand passed the Statutes Repeal Bill which removed 132 outdated or unused laws, although it still bans associating with convicted thieves, however.

And actually, the law about mercenaries wasn’t quite as prohibitive. Under the definition of a mercenary, the person must be motivated by private gain and be paid substantially more than local soldiers.

Other world regulations

This isn’t entirely the case in other countries. For example:

  • It’s still illegal to break wind in a public place after 6.00 pm on Thursdays in Florida, USA.
  • It’s a legal requirement to smile at all times in Milan, Italy – although there are exceptions, such as being at a funeral, visiting or working at a hospital, and being at the bedside of an ill family member. For everybody else, there’s no excuse. It came from when Milan was occupied as part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, and it has never been repealed.
  • It’s illegal not to walk your dog at least three times a day in Turin, Italy. Dog owners can be fined up to €500 if they don’t walk their pets at least three times a day. Turin has some of the most stringent animal protection rules in the world. They even ban fairgrounds from giving away goldfish in bags.
  • It’s against the law to have a sleeping donkey in your bathtub after 7.00 pm in Arizona, USA.
  • In Sarpourenx, France, dying without a burial plot in a local cemetery is an offence. It’s not clear how this would be enforced though.