Legal Status of Unicycles - Sugra Vs the Police

Many people at Unicon will have met Sugra the Juggler, so I think now is a good time to repost Sugra’s epic battle vs the police:-


Hearing: 12 October 1995
Counsel: N V Taylor for Appellant, CW Hyde for Respondent
Judgment: -2 FEB 1996


Sugra Morley is a juggler. He entertains the public, particularly school children, by juggling. During his acts he often uses a unicycle as one of his props. To maintain his skill in the use of the unicycle he rides it in the central city area and to and from his home.

On 12 April 1995 he rode it out of the Square in Christchurch, along Strand Lane towards Hereford Street. As he crossed the Hereford Street footpath he came into collision with a pedestrian by bumping her bag against her leg. When he was called out to by another member of the public he said he was sorry but proceeded on. The pedestrian was shaken by the experience but no injury was proven to have arisen from the incident.

The charge laid against Morley was under s 13 of the Summary of Offences Act 1981. This section states:-

At the hearing on 22 August 1995 in the District Court there were two principal matters at issue:-

  • Whether the unicycle was a "thing that in the absence of precaution or care is likely to cause injury", and
  • Whether Morley did an act with reckless disregard for the safety of others and without reasonable excuse. [/LIST]On the first issue the District Court Judge concluded that a "thing" described in s 13 included any object which, in the course of its use, may be likely to cause injury. He determined that an object which was not potentially dangerous when static could become so when in use. He accepted that a unicycle was not potentially dangerous when not in use but concluded that it had a potential danger of colliding with other persons when it was in use.

    Three decisions of this Court were referred to by the Judge, namely, Meikle v Police (1985) 1 CRNZ 511; Hilder v Police (1989) 4 CRNZ 232, and Cantley v Barton 6 CRNZ 665. The District Court Judge considered that those decisions were in conflict and consequently that he was entitled to reject the views expressed by Wylie J in the Hilder case. There the learned judge, when considering paraflying apparatus and a speedboat, had said:-
    In my view this reasoning by Wylie J is correct and I have no hesitation in applying it.

    The provision in s 13 is a penal one and should be interpreted with a consciousness not only of the purpose of the legislation (R v Pratt [1990] 2 NZLR 129) but also its penal effect (Perkins v Police [1988] 1 NZLR 257). As Lord Reid said in R v Ottewell [1970] AC 642, 649 the principle that in doubtful cases a penal provision ought to be given that interpretation which is least unfavourable to the accused only applies where after full enquiry and consideration there is real doubt. If the legislature had intended to include the concept of use in s 13, then I believe it would have said so. Push chairs, prams, sporting trundlers, supermarket trolleys may frequently bump a person or cause them to stumble but would not necessarily be considered as things “that in the absence of precaution or care are likely to cause injury”. I note that they are excluded from the definition of a vehicle in the Transport Act 1962. Since any thing may be used to cause injury the above underlined descriptive words would be unnecessary if use rather than inherent nature was the test.

    An immobile car was involved in the Meikle case and bolting calves in the Cantley case. In my view those cases are not in conflict with the Hilder case because the nature of the “thing” described in s 13 was not raised. It was apparently never argued that the things in those previous cases were not, in the circumstances, things which in the absence of precaution or care were likely to cause injury and consequently no decision was arrived at on this issue.

    In arriving at my conclusion I have been conscious of the decision of the Court of Appeal in the case of R v Turner & McFarlane CA 170/94, 22 June 1995. It was not cited to the District Court Judge but is generally supportive of his reasoning. In that case the Court, when considering the nature of the thing, referred to in a similar but not identical provision in s 156 of the Crimes Act 1961, stated (per Tompkins J p 12):-

    I find difficulty with the statement that the section has been construed as including things that are not inherently dangerous. The only case referred to in the above extract in support of that proposition is R v Storey [1931] NZLR 417. In that case a person had been charged with manslaughter as a result of negligent driving of a motor vehicle. The essence of the Court’s decision related to the degree of negligence which it was necessary to prove and causation. The nature of the thing was not an issue considered by the Court. The section was not construed in that respect. The point was considered by Windeyer J in the case of Timbu Kolian (1968) 42 ALJR 295, 299. He said that the corresponding provision in the Queensland code may apply only to:-
    In any event, different words are used in s 136 of the Crimes Act namely “anything whatever” to those used in s 13. They clearly encompass a wider range of objects than a specific thing as described in s 13 of the Summary Offences Act 1981.

    My conclusion is that Hilder v Police contains a clear, reasoned and specific definition of the words used in s 13. I consider Wylie J’s decision is correct and accordingly that the Hilder test should be applied in this case. A unicycle is not a thing which is inherently dangerous. It is not an object which is likely to cause injury in the absence of precaution r care. Accordingly I do not consider s 13 applies to it.

    For these reasons I allow the appeal and quash the conviction.

    The definition of vehicle in s 2 of the Transport Act 1962 refers to wheels and does not include a unicycle which only has one wheel. Also the definition of cycle in Reg 2 of the Traffic Regulations 1976 is “a vehicle having at least 2 wheels”. If a unicycle is used on the roadway for transport then it would seem appropriate for it to be included in the definitions of a vehicle and a cycle so that the usual road rules would apply.

    There is no need for me to consider the second issue of recklessness.

    For the sake of completeness, I record that even if I were wrong in relation to the first issue, I would have applied s 19 of the Criminal Justice Act 1985 and discharged the Appellant without conviction.

    **(signed by Judge Williamson)

    White Fox & Jones, Christchurch, for Appellant
    Crown Solicitor, Christchurch, for Respondent

    There are various sites on the internet where law students discuss Sugra’s case- such as and

    Sugra has also had other interesting cases where he has stood up for himself-

    Sugra has his own website which has another cool Police Vs Unicycle story but written in Sugra’s words. Worth checking out!

    Thanks Sugra for setting such a precedent for unicycles!

  • I’ll add a picture: Sugra was an inspiration to many people in Unicon and around Wellington, often involving unsuspecting onlookers in juggling and unicycling activities. The observers became part of the event!