Offensive Language – A Case Study by a Defence Solicitor.
The Facts: A young man left a hotel at the Rocks shortly after midnight on a Monday. He was intoxicated and stood near a police bus with tinted windows parked outside a police station, extended his third finger and said “you’re fucked” in a voice loud enough for the ten or so officers on the bus to take action. There were other members of the public around, all coming from the hotel. There were no school children or others who might be offended by the language. Police hear this type of language frequently, and often use it themselves. We set the case down for hearing.
The Result: The charge was dismissed with costs. We submitted that there were decided legal cases where police had used similar and worse language. The officers admitted that they were not personally offended, and that the only members of the public present at the time were also from the hotel. There was significant publicity; consideration of an appeal by the Director of Public Prosecutions; criticism by the Police Commissioner; discussion on talk back radio etc.
The magistrate was attacked by those ignorant of the law.The media loved it. We strongly supported the magistrate for enforcing the law. It is a double standard of the police to charge people for such words, used in the circumstances that existed that night.
There was no appeal. The law has not changed. The law correctly applied by the learned Magistrate still applies today. Would the other pub-goers have been offended? Hardly.
Hopefully the reasonable person and the reasonable police officer have broad shoulders and thick skin – particularly police officers who come into contact with persons and such language frequently.
Offensive Language prosecution can be a tool improperly used by police to silence the impolite or disrespectful. Those who are socio-economically disadvantaged are easy targets.