Offensive language is a criminal offence in NSW. It is difficult to reconcile the fact that these words are regularly used in mainstream media, such as on television and in music lyrics, yet people are still prosecuted for this offence.

 

What is offensive language?

Offensive language is an offence under section 4A of the Summary Offences Act 1988 (NSW). This offence occurs when a person:

  • Is within view or hearing of a public place or a school, and
  • Uses offensive language.

 

What is offensive conduct? 

Offensive conduct is an offence under section 4 of the Summary Offences Act. This offence occurs when a person:

  • Is within view or hearing of a public place or a school, and
  • Conducts himself or herself in an offensive manner.

A typical example of offensive conduct is urinating in public.

 

What is considered offensive?

Something offensive is said to be “calculated to wound the feelings, arouse anger or resentment or disgust in the mind of a reasonable person.” This reasonable person is not “thin-skinned” and is “reasonably contemporary”.

In a recent District Court decision, the judge noted that most of the “Australian population after puberty” uses offensive language and that “even ‘four letter words’ are these days used merely for emphasis (as intensifiers), as substitutes for forgotten words, or purely out of acquired habit, and even for comic effect, and sometimes even affectionately.”

 

Penalties

The maximum penalty for offensive language is a fine of up to $660. Instead of a fine, the court may choose to impose a community correction order requiring community service work.

The maximum penalty for offensive conduct is a fine of up to $660 or a prison sentence of up to three months.

 

Frequently Asked Questions

Where will the matter be heard?

Both offensive language and offensive conduct are summary offences which are heard in the Local Court.

What are the possible defences for offensive language or conduct?

It can be argued that the language or conduct would not be considered offensive by a reasonable person.

Both these charges could also be defended by proving, on the balance of probabilities, that there was a “reasonable excuse” for the conduct alleged. For example, if the offensive conduct was related to brawling, the accused could argue that they were trying to stop the brawl.

Are swear words always considered offensive?

Swear words are not necessarily always considered offensive. It depends on the context and circumstances in which the words are used.

How can we help?

We are experienced in successfully defending offensive language and offensive conduct charges.

Book a free consultation or call us on 1300 668 484 for 24/7 legal advice.

Offensive Language & Offensive Conduct Articles