The PLEA: The Bathroom Barrister

The PLEA: The Bathroom Barrister

A Legal Trip Around the Loo

Contrary to popular belief, the flush toilet was not invented in the mid-1800s by a British plumber named Thomas Crapper. Rather, it first appeared in the late 1500s. Invented by Queen Elizabeth’s godson Sir John Harington, the toilet was installed in the Queen’s palace at Richmond. The slang name “The Throne” suddenly seems more appropriate, doesn’t it?

As bathrooms have evolved, so has the law. Let’s take a look at some of the ways the law applies

Right to Use the Washroom

The Supreme Court of Missouri stated “a person’s right to use public restrooms is about as fundamental a right as one can imagine, probably equal to or more fundamental than speech rights.”

If the right to use the restroom is believed to be a fundamental right, what obligations does the state have to ensure this right is respected and promoted?


Patents grant an individual or organization the right to make, use, or sell an item of their invention. A patent will protect inventions from being copied for several years. The first patents for toilets appear to date back to the 1770s. Thomas Crapper was granted several patents in the mid-1800s for his innovations that helped popularize the flush toilet.

Because patents grant inventors exclusive rights to their new designs, do they encourage innovation or exclude others from advancing technology?

Seawater Toilets

To curb the shortage of fresh water in Hong Kong, in 1960 laws were changed to encourage the use of seawater toilets. One barrier to introducing seawater toilets was that the construction of a separate water system for Hong Kong was required. Today, around 80% of Hong Kong’s toilets use seawater.

Would the construction of a second, non-treated water system for lawn watering and toilets be a sound use of public money?

Toilet Paper Tax

In 2009, a 3% tax on toilet paper was proposed in the American Water Resources Protection Act. The idea was to tax sources of water pollution. Although it is within the rights of the government to tax sources of pollution, the law did not pass.

Is it fair to tax toilet paper when most governments already charge user fees for sewers?

The Public Spitting, Urination and Defecation Bylaw

In 2004, Saskatoon City Council passed The Public Spitting, Urination and Defecation Bylaw. It specifically prohibited spitting on public property, and urinating and defecating anywhere in public. The penalties for breaking this law can be as high as $200 or up to thirty days in prison.

If a community prohibits public urination and defecation, should it then ensure the availability of 24-hour public washrooms?

Gender-Neutral Bathrooms

For transgendered people, it can be difficult to find a bathroom appropriate to their gender identification. Groups have formed to help remedy bullying and discrimination. One such website,, has a user-created database of single-stall locking bathrooms and many links to resources on gender-neutral bathrooms.

What would be the merits and drawbacks of having laws promoting gender-neutral bathrooms in public places?


Review the four purposes of law put forth on the front page of this issue of The PLEA. How do the bathroom laws and regulations outlined above fulfill these purposes of law? Can you think of laws you would like to see put in place?

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