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Offensive Behaviour

Offensive behaviour is a broad charged that is often laid when it is difficult for police to prosecute a person for a more specific act. You can be charged with this offence in relation to a range of conduct from alleged assaults to verbal abuse to simple anti-social behaviour. It is important to note that, while this is a fine-only offence, it can still result in a conviction and criminal record.

While the ACT has recently adopted a Criminal Infringement Notice system for dozens of minor offences, charges of offensive behaviour must be dealt with by a court.


Section 392 of the Crimes Act 1900 provides that a person shall not in, near, or within the view or hearing of a person in a public place behave in a riotous, indecent, offensive or insulting manner. The maximum penalty is a fine of $1,000.

What actions might constitute offensive behaviour?

The following actions may give rise to a charge of offensive behaviour:

  • Being drunk and disorderly;
  • Being verbally abusive;
  • Sexual behaviour in public;
  • Fighting in a public place.

In other jurisdictions, urinating in public can be taken to be offensive conduct, but it is subject to a separate charge in the ACT (Section 393A Crimes Act) with a maximum penalty of a fine of 10 penalty units.

What the police must prove

To convict you of offensive behaviour, the prosecution must prove the following beyond a reasonable doubt:

  • You were in, near, or within view of a public place;
  • You acted in an offensive manner.

The word “offensive” is open to interpretation and it is impossible to provide a thorough definition. The courts will typically consider each matter on its merits, in light of the surrounding circumstances.

An experienced criminal lawyer will usually be able to give an idea if the charge could be contested on the basis that your actions were not offensive. A charge of offensive behaviour can sometimes be defeated if there is no witness willing to give evidence that they were offended.

Possible defences to a charge of offensive behaviour

Possible defences to an Offensive Conduct charge include but are not limited to:

  • Disputing that the acts alleged occurred or that you were the person responsible (a factual defence);
  • Arguing that the conduct was not offensive;
  • Claiming you had a reasonable excuse.

Which court will hear your matter?

This matter is a summary matter and will be heard in the ACT Magistrates Court.

If you require advice on offensive behaviour or any other legal matter, call 1300 038 223 or email us.

Andrew Fraser - Managing Associate - Canberra

This article was written by Andrew Fraser - Managing Associate - Canberra

Andrew works in the areas of criminal law and traffic law, providing practical advice in all of his clients’ matters. Andrew has, over many years, developed positive working relationships with prosecutors, magistrates and judges. His no-nonsense approach means he has a reputation for putting forward the best case possible for clients. Andrew has won many matters for his clients, including...

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