What is a “Public Nuisance”?

Public Nuisance

A person commits a public nuisance offence if:

  • The person behaves in:
  • a disorderly way, or
  • an offensive way, or
  • a threatening way, or
  • a violent way and
  • the person’s behaviour interferes, or is likely to interfere with the peaceful passage through, or enjoyment of, a public place by a member of the public.

A person behaves in an offensive way if the person uses offensive, obscene, indecent or abuse language.  A person behaves in a threatening way if the person uses threatening language. It is not necessary for a person to make a complaint about the behaviour of another person before a police officer may start proceedings for a public nuisance offence.

What is considered disorderly or offensive behaviour will vary with the location, time and circumstances of the act. This has been accepted by the Courts and each case will be determined on its own facts. 

Deciding whether conduct is offensive is an objective test as it does not rely on whether a particular person felt abused or offended by the conduct of the accused.

What must Police prove for a public nuisance charge?

The police must prove that you:

  • Behaved in one of the ways mentions above (disorderly, offensive or threatening/violent) and
  • Your behaviour interfered with, or would likely interfere with the peaceful passage through, or enjoyment of, a public place.

It is not necessary for prosecution to prove that a third party was actually interfered with, or even that a person made a complaint about your behaviour. You can be convicted for this offence if your behaviour, on reasonable grounds, would have been likely to interfere with the peaceful enjoyment of a public place.

A public place means a place that is open to or used by the public, whether or not on payment of a fee.

What is the Penalty for a Public Nuisance Offence?

If a police officer considers your conduct amounts to the offence of public nuisance, they can commence court proceedings against you, or they can give you an infringement notice (a ticket).

The maximum penalty is 10 penalty units (around $1,334.50) or 6 months imprisonment. If you were within or in the vicinity of a license premises, the maximum penalty is increased to 25 penalty units (approx. $3,336.25) or 6 months imprisonment.

If you have been issued an infringement notice, schedule 1 of the State Penalties Enforcement Regulation 2014 outlines the different penalty units for public nuisance.

  • For abusive, obscene or offensive language
    • 1 penalty unit (approx. $133.45)
    • If you were within or in vicinity of licenced premises – 3 penalty units (approx. $400.35)
  • For disorderly, offensive, threatening or violent behaviour
    • 3 penalty units (approx. $400.35)
    • If you were within or in vicinity of licenced premises – 6 penalty units (approx. $800.70)

This post contains general advice only and is not intended as legal advice.