A major review of the century-old Western Australian Police Act has recommended that fortune telling, sleeping rough and a host of other long-standing offences be abolished.
Releasing the Law Reform Commission's report today, Attorney General Joe Berinson said a total of 51 offences had been recommended for repeal.
"In many cases, offences were framed 100 years ago and are simply no longer relevant to contemporary society and should go," he said.
This included such age-old offences as being found in a 'place, stable or outhouse' for an unlawful purpose, prize-fighting, and even playing certain games on Christmas Day and Good Friday.
The Commission found that many Police Act offences were now duplicated in other legislation, were inconsistent with criminal law principles, or were not used. In some cases, they could today be seen as an undue intrusion on civil liberties.
Mr Berinson said there was particular concern that some offences were framed in such a way that even being suspected of doing something wrong was itself a crime.
"For example, it is now an offence to be suspected of being about to commit an offence and failing to give a satisfactory account of oneself, even when no attempt has been made to commit an offence," he said.
"This places an undesirable onus on individuals to explain themselves, and is evident in a number of the offences recommended for repeal."
Another concern was the tendency of some offences to single out particular people on the basis of status.
For example, section 42 gave police power to remove any common prostitute, reputed thief, or other loose, idle or disorderly person from theatres and similar premises. If such persons failed to leave on request, they committed an offence.
"In the Commission's view, it is unsatisfactory for offences which depend on the category a person falls into, rather than on their conduct, to remain on the statute book unless justified by some other consideration," the report says.
In most instances, the conduct being targeted could be covered by more general offences without naming specific groups.
Of the 51 offences proposed for abolition, Mr Berinson said only a small number would go completely as other laws would in many cases still cover aspects of the offence.
Even fortune-telling would still have some controls as any fraudulent aspects would be covered by the Criminal Code.
In recommending that fortune-telling no longer be an offence, the Commission says the present offence can be traced back to the United Kingdom Witchcraft Act 1735.
"The fact that those who avail themselves of the service are induced to part with their money, and those who believe what they are told may suffer emotionally, is not sufficient justification for imposing a criminal penalty," it says.
Other sections of the Act recommended for repeal ranged over offences such as firing cannon near dwelling houses, beating carpets, injuring public fountains, and even allowing rain to drop from eaves.
The Commission recommends that only 24 of the Police Act offences should be retained, although with modifications, and that these should be placed in a new Summary Offences Act.
The administrative provisions of the Police Act could then be incorporated in a new Police Administration Act.
The Commission also recommends the rationalisation of police arrest, entry, search and seizure powers to make them more consistent with Criminal Code provisions. It wants specific changes to ensure more emphasis on proceeding by summons rather than arrest for minor offences.
The Commission's report will be open for public comment for two months. Copies are available from the Law Reform Commission.