One of my favourite funny memories of time spent in Germany is of a moment in the square of a small town when a chant went up from among the layabouts that decorate these public spaces: “Johnson! Johnson! Johnson! . . . ” And, lo, here came Johnson strolling from behind some building naked as a jaybird. Hausfraus — it was shopping time — turned away, moved away, and this Moses parting the bourgeois sea, not acknowledging his claque, which kept up the chant, sauntered free. But as he approached the fishmongers, where I was watching from, (with some uneasiness, I have to add: the notion of a naked man in a fish shop seemed somehow . . . ) the ta-ti-ta-ta of the cop cars was heard and within moments Johnson was gone with the guys in green.
For a law blog, though, the question raised by the Johnson episode might be quo warranto? It may be that the Germans have a law against public nakedness, like our Code s.174 which makes it an offence to be nude in a public place “without lawful excuse.” Note, though, that the consent of the Attorney General is required for a prosecution under this section; this may or may not inhibit the police from using this section to arrest our Johnsons. If it does, there’s always the offence in the next section of “openly [exposing] or [exhibiting] an indecent exhibition in a public place.” (I have to say I might enjoy defending someone on this if only to make fun of “openly . . . exhibiting . . . an exhibition”.)
But in some places things are more gnarly. Scotland, it seems, is one of those. From the blog Jack of Kent we learn that former Royal Marine Stephen Gough, who rejoices in the nickname the Naked Rambler, and who keeps getting arrested, is now doing time in a Perth prison for breach of peace and contempt of court. Seems he showed up for trial sans kilt, which earned him 21 months inside. The BBC carried the story at the time of his sentencing. Because he’s a stubborn man, and because it seems that the sheriff is as well, he keeps fighting the law and the law keeps winning: he’s been re-arrested a number of times mere moments after being released. As the entry on Jack of Kent points out, he’s potentially facing a life in jail.
All of which led to a discussion on that blog about what business the law has telling people what to wear — or to wear, come to that, making for an interesting read, as usually happens with posts on Jack of Kent, I might add.