A case study by a criminal defence lawyer

The Facts: A police sergeant is accused of swearing by using the word ‘fuck’ on occasions towards a female police woman within the hearing of the public foyer.

The Result: In the decision of Anderson, an unreported decision of the court of Criminal Appeal in 1995, His Honour Meagher JA noted the following:

“Undoubtedly the behaviour of the opponent (officer) was unchivalrous and unbecoming of the office he occupies. This is, however a long way from the language he allegedly used being offensive in any legal sense…there was no evidence that persons in the public area were ever offended, nor that the public area was frequented by gentle old ladies or convent school girls. Bearing in mind that we are living in a post-Chatterly, post-Wolfenden age, taking into account all circumstances, and judging the matter from the point of view of reasonable contemporary standards, I cannot believe Sergeant Anderson’s language was legally “offensive”.

The word “fuck” was held in this case to be part of the police culture.

Unfortunately this type of offence is all too often associated with allegations of assault police, resist police – which has in the past been referred to when coupled with offensive language to be ‘the trifecta’. There is a real risk of abuse of power. Careful analysis is required in every case.