Changing the rules*
Can a stag night have legal repercussions? If my parents visit the US, might they be sent to Guantan
I have rashly agreed to arrange the stag night for a university friend. He’s quite a shy bloke,
but everyone is ridiculing me for saying yes – and they are threatening “a night to remember”. I foresee handcuffs, a lamp-post and gutters running with shaving cream. Are there any legal dangers I can frighten them with?
Paul Lewis, London
The scenario you envisage is a legal minefield. Your friends, in their exuberance, might well commit both kidnapping and assault. By failing to tip off the authorities, you yourself could face a life sentence if put on trial for conspiracy. Each of you could also face a civil action and end up several thousand pounds out of pocket.
Unfortunately for your purposes, such an outcome is improbable. Although most stag parties have the potential to end disastrously, few are criminal enterprises from the outset and, in most cases, the prospective groom's consent to tomfoolery precludes all liability. Your friends may, as a consequence, take your warnings with a pinch of salt.
You must therefore reiterate to them as vividly as you can. Inform your friends that if they were to misinterpret cries of pain as yelps of joy, drunkenness would be no defence. Let them know that there are some types of consensual horseplay that the law simply refuses to countenance under any circumstances. The House of Lords and the European Court of Human Rights made clear a few years ago, for example, that it is always illegal to pour molten wax into another man's urethra. Having one's scrotum hammered to a board is similarly unlawful, no matter how enjoyable the experience may be (see Laskey v UK, 1997).
Such contingencies may seem remote at present. Yet rites of passage can unleash unexpected impulses.
It is wise to anticipate the worst.
I used to work in New York and want to take my parents there. We’re Muslim, though, and they’ve got it into their heads that the US government could send them to Guantanamo. How can I reassure them?
AZ, High Wycombe
It is true that US law no longer protects tourists against indefinite military detention without trial, but prolonged incarceration is by no means certain. The key concern of the American authorities is to detect unlawful enemy combatants - and your parents are at risk only if their profile seems to indicate a propensity towards terrorism.
This could occur if, for example, their names resemble any of the entries on the US Transport Security Administration's 40,000-strong no-fly list. They would then become eligible for enhanced security measures, including an F-16 flight escort and sustained interrogation on arrival.
The list has its shortcomings - it apparently includes 14 of the 9/11 hijackers, for example, and for unknown reasons it targets everyone called Gary Smith, John Williams and Robert Johnson. But the laws of probability, if nothing else, are on your parents' side.
The US government also obtains information about tourists from the carriers that fly them. Every time someone makes a reservation, the airline concerned creates a passenger name record (PNR) - which can include more than 30 types of personal data, ranging from meal requests to accommodation preferences - and the Department of Homeland Security is entitled to see all the information.
Since it refuses to reveal how PNRs are used, it is hard to say how a profile can be optimised, however. It might be prudent to order a vegan meal rather than a halal one. Occupying a window seat may seem less threatening than sitting by the aisle. The reverse might be true, of course. Whichever it is, bon voyage - and let us hope you do not guess wrong!
Sadakat Kadri is a barrister and author of "The Trial: a History from Socrates to O J Simpson". This will be his last column as he is working on a new book on sharia law*"The rules of the game have changed" - Tony Blair, August 2005