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What Is Offensive Conduct In NSW?

offensive conduct

In New South Wales, maintaining public order and ensuring the safety and well-being of its citizens are paramount concerns for the legal system. Offensive conduct is a significant issue that can disrupt public tranquillity and lead to a sense of insecurity. To address this, NSW has established laws to define and regulate offensive conduct, along with corresponding penalties.


Offensive conduct, as defined in NSW law, pertains to behaviour that is likely to cause fear, alarm, or distress to a reasonable person in a public place. It encompasses a wide range of actions, from verbal abuse to provocative gestures, that can reasonably be expected to disturb the peace and tranquillity of a public setting.


To determine whether conduct qualifies as offensive, the standard applied is that of a hypothetical “reasonable person.” This means considering how a reasonable, ordinary individual would react to the behaviour in question. It is important to note that the assessment is objective, focusing on the likely impact of the conduct rather than the specific sensitivities or reactions of any one individual.

The Law on Offensive Conduct In NSW

Offensive conduct falls under the jurisdiction of the Summary Offences Act 1988 (NSW). This act outlines various offences related to public order, including offensive conduct. Section 4 of the act provides the legal definition and penalties for offensive conduct.


4 Offensive conduct


(1) A person must not conduct himself or herself in an offensive manner in or near, or within view or hearing from, a public place or a school.

Maximum penalty: 6 penalty units or imprisonment for 3 months.

(2) A person does not conduct himself or herself in an offensive manner as referred to in subsection (1) merely by using offensive language.

(3) It is a sufficient defence to a prosecution for an offence under this section if the defendant satisfies the court that the defendant had a reasonable excuse for conducting himself or herself in the manner alleged in the information for the offence.


The Elements of the Offence on Offensive Conduct


As Offensive Conduct constitutes a criminal offence, it is the responsibility of the Prosecution to bear the burden of proof.


The prosecution is required to establish the guilt of the accused beyond a reasonable doubt.


This entails a rigorous standard of proof that the prosecution must meet before an individual can be found guilty of Offensive Conduct.


To substantiate a case of Offensive Conduct, the prosecution must conclusively demonstrate the following points beyond a reasonable doubt:


  • You were located in, near, or within sight of a public place.
  • You engaged in behaviour deemed offensive in nature.

The penalties for offensive conduct can vary depending on the circumstances and severity of the offence. In general, the court may impose fines, community service orders, or in more serious cases, imprisonment. The specific penalties are determined based on factors such as the nature of the conduct, any prior criminal record, and the impact of the behaviour on the public.


For less severe cases, where the conduct is deemed to be of a minor nature, an individual may receive a caution or a move-on order. These measures are intended to deter future offences and serve as a reminder of the importance of maintaining public order.


The highest possible punishment for using offensive conduct is a monetary fine of up to $660. Alternatively, the court may opt for a community correction order mandating community service.


Regarding offensive conduct, the most severe penalties can include a fine of up to $660, or in more severe cases, three months imprisonment.

Legal Defences For Offensive Conduct

In accordance with section 4(3) of the Summary Offences Act 1988, if you can demonstrate to the Court that there was a valid and justifiable reason for conduct that might otherwise be deemed offensive and constitute an offence, then you are absolved of any wrongdoing.


Naturally, depending on the particulars of the case, a charge can be contested on grounds that the purported behaviour did not transpire; or that the alleged behaviour did not meet the legal criteria for being considered “offensive”; and/or that the conduct did not take place in close proximity to a school or public area.

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Examples Of Offensive Conduct

Verbal Abuse

Shouting obscenities, racial slurs, or other offensive language in a public place can constitute offensive conduct or offensive behaviour. This behaviour is likely to cause distress or alarm to others present.


Provocative Gestures


Making lewd or threatening gestures towards others in a public setting can be considered offensive conduct. This type of behaviour is designed to provoke a reaction and is disruptive to public order.


Public Intoxication


Being heavily intoxicated in a public place to the point where it causes concern or alarm to others can be considered offensive conduct. This behaviour can create an atmosphere of fear or unease.


Indecent Exposure


Engaging in public nudity or exposing oneself in a manner likely to cause distress to others constitutes offensive conduct. This behaviour is a clear violation of public decency.


Persistent Harassment


Engaging in a pattern of unwanted, intrusive behaviour towards a particular individual or group in a public place can amount to offensive conduct. This may include following, stalking, or repeatedly approaching someone despite their objections.


Maintaining public order and ensuring the safety and well-being of citizens are essential responsibilities of any legal system. In NSW, offensive conduct is taken seriously, and laws have been enacted to regulate such behaviour.


Understanding the legal framework, penalties, and examples of offensive conduct is crucial in upholding a peaceful and secure public environment. By adhering to these laws, individuals contribute to a harmonious society where everyone can feel safe and respected.


An offensive conduct charge, which is a summary offence, will be finalised in the Local Court of NSW. Generally, penalties that a court can impose for any criminal offence in NSW are:


  • Section 10 – No conviction recorded
  • Fine
  • Conditional Release Order, with or without criminal conviction
  • Community Corrections Order
  • Intensive Corrections Order
  • Full Time Imprisonment

If you have been charged with offensive conduct in NSW, contact our avo lawyers in Sydney. Our experienced criminal defence lawyers can assist you in defending your case, or representing you if you intend to plead guilty.

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