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Offensive Language

Offensive language is a crime that is charged when someone uses foul or offensive language. It is most commonly used either where a person has verbally abused police, or along with other more serious charges.

In NSW, offensive language carries a maximum penalty of a fine of six penalty units. However, it is important to note that the offence, if determined by a court, can still result in a conviction and criminal record.


The offence of Offensive Language is contained in section 4A of the Summary Offenses Act 1988 which states: “A person must not use offensive language in or near, or within hearing from, a public place or a school.”

However, the following subsection provides a defence if “the defendant satisfies the court that the defendant had a reasonable excuse for conducting himself or herself in the manner alleged.”

What the Police Must Prove

To convict a person of Offensive Language, 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 used offensive language

The word “offensive” is vague, and it is impossible to provide a thorough definition. The courts will typically consider each matter on its merits, but will look in particular at:

  • The words used
  • The surrounding circumstances
  • The number of people who heard the words
  • The perceived intention of the speaker

An experienced criminal lawyer will usually be able to give an idea if your words could be regarded by a court as being offensive.

Possible defences

Possible defences to an Offensive Language charge include:

  • Suggesting that, taking into account the context, the words were not offensive or that no one present was offended;
  • Suggesting you 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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