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Offensive Conduct

Offensive conduct is a broad offence that is often charged when it is difficult for police to prosecute a more specific offence. This charge can be laid in relation to alleged assaults or verbal abuse to simple “anti-social behaviour”.

In NSW, offensive conduct carries a maximum penalty of 3 months imprisonment or a fine of 6 penalty units. However, it is important to note that the offence can still result in a conviction and criminal record.

Police can also deal with the matter by way of an on the spot fine. This fine can be disputed in court, should you choose to do so.


The offence of Offensive Conduct is contained in section 4 of the Summary Offenses Act 1988 which states: “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.”

However, the following subsection makes it clear that a person does not conduct himself or herself in an offensive manner merely by using offensive language. There is also a defence available if you had “a reasonable excuse” for your actions.

What Actions Might Constitute Offensive Conduct?

The following actions may result in a charge of offensive conduct:

  • Getting changed in a public place within view of families with children;
  • Having sex in a public place;
  • Engaging in a fight involving violence and foul language in the mall.

What the Police Must Prove

To convict a person of Offensive Conduct, the prosecution must prove each of the following matters beyond a reasonable doubt:

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

The word “offensive” is maddeningly vague, 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 your actions could be regarded by a court as being offensive.

Possible Defences

Possible defences to an Offensive Conduct charge include:

  • That the conduct was not offensive
  • That the accused had a “reasonable excuse”

Which Court Will Hear Your Matter?

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

If you require legal advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Armstrong Legal.

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