A man was celebrating at a restaurant with friends the fact that he had just received his Australian citizenship – they are enjoying themselves as part of a group of around 8 people. Two of the party had to leave so they handed money to one of the other patrons to pay for their meals, however this was not seen by the restaurant manager. Police were called.
An officer told the group to treat the manager with more respect. The client said, “Fuck off?” – as if to say – you can’t be serious. He was arrested and handcuffed! Then the cuffs were taken off so that he could pay his share before being taken in custody to a police station to be charged.
Outrageous you might think? The client later said that back at the police station he heard significant use of such language by officers on duty, including one who said to the arresting officer, “How are you going, you fucking slut?”. One might think that a double standard applied.
Offensive language is an offence that has been the subject of much judicial decision making. Standards have changed over the years, and during this time the various means of communication have improved with advancement in technology. We regularly hear sporting greats swearing on television and radio. If you attend a sporting fixture involving adults, swear words are frequently used. It is quite common to hear people swearing in public, including restaurants, on public transport, to read swear words in newspapers, and on the internet.
A plea of not guilty was entered and the matter proceeded to a defended hearing of the police charges, in the Downing Centre Local Court. We were able to show that swearing is as much of police culture as it is for a large part of society. Whether it is offensive will normally depend on the circumstances in which the words were uttered, and the content.
The Result: Case dismissed. Our accredited criminal law specialist handled this case and said this when interviewed on radio 2UE:
“The time has not yet come when the first course on any menu in a restaurant is a lesson in etiquette from a NSW Police Officer”.