[LEAPSECS] What's the point?

Ian Batten igb at batten.eu.org
Wed Feb 9 01:15:55 EST 2011

On 8 Feb 2011, at 17:05, Gerard Ashton wrote:

> Sovereign states have some degree of control over civil time; the remaining control is

> in the control of individuals, either through personal whims or voluntary collective

> action. The IAU, ITU, BIPM, ISO, and all the rest do not have control over civil timekeeping

> because the weights and measures inspectors who enforce measurement laws do

> not take orders from them, they take orders from the sovereign state that employs them.

Although it's not obvious to me that in the UK, at least, they have any practical authority over time. The Weights and Measures Act 1985 S.6(1)(c) makes it clear that they could check clocks (or at least the interval measuring aspect of them) if someone asked them to:

> 6Testing of other standards and equipment.


> (1)The Secretary of State may, if he thinks fit, on the application of any government or person, accept for testing as to accuracy or compliance with any specfication and for report—

> (a)any article used or proposed to be used as a standard of a unit of measurement of mass, length, capacity, area or volume, or as a standard of the weight of any coin,

> (b)any weighing or measuring equipment,

> (c)any other metrological equipment, and

> (d)any article for use in connection with equipment mentioned in paragraph (b) or (c) above,


> submitted by that government or person for the purpose at such place as the Secretary of State may direct.

But the rest of the act is mostly about weighing, which conflates force and mass but I think we know what they mean, and measuring, which for these purposes usually means "of length and powers of length". For example, Schedule 1 defines units of length, mass, volume and area, with the second used (to define metres in terms of the speed of light) but not defined. The schedule does also has some electrical units, because weights and measures officers' remit does run to checking electricity meters, but again the definitions depend on the (undefined) second, to get to the Watt. But there's no mention of electricity in the body of the act, not of clock, and a quick glance (not exhaustive) implies the word "time" is always use in such constructions as "at such time as", not in terms of anything that might be measured.

I can conceive of all sorts of scenarios in which either the rate or the absolute value of clocks might be a T&S issue. Charging bands for telephone calls or electricity (at the moment there are two bands, but there's talk about more), congestion charging, car park fees, etc, etc. But cases that actually come to court seem to be fairly thin on the ground.



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