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Public Nuisance Offence

What Might Constitute a Public Nuisance?

This is possibly the most commonly encountered offence seen by a criminal defence lawyer.  Perhaps the reason for this is that a wide range of circumstances can give rise to the offence, and those circumstances are often associated with significant alcohol consumption. 

A quick look at section 6 of the Summary Offences Act 2005 reveals that just one of the vague types of conduct falling into the category of public nuisance is called "disorderly conduct".  Now, according to the case of Coleman v Power [2004] HCA 39 "disorderly conduct" means behaviour which is likely to cause a disturbance, or annoy, or insult others sufficiently deeply or seriously to warrant the interference of the criminal law. 

But obviously whether one type of conduct or another fits that description is open to interpretation.  What annoys or insults one person might not annoy or insult another.  And that can present real problems for anyone charged with public nuisance - particularly if alcohol is alleged to have been involved.

But you might ask yourself, why is this type of wide definition such a problem.  Well, in 2008 the Crime and Misconduct Commission conducted a review of  all sentences imposed on offenders convicted of public nuisance and concluded, amongst other things, that just over half of them ended up with a conviction recorded against their names.  The effect of such a result is that all of the aspirations you had as a university student or apprentice evaporate. 

How Can That be Avoided?

One of the real issues in public nuisance matters is whether the conduct complained of really constitutes the type of "public nuisance" the Summary Offences Act sought to prohibit.  If not carefully considered, a court may make judgements about your conduct which are completely at odds with how you perceived it, or intended it to be viewed.  Contextualising the conduct alleged with the aid of current community standards, the defendant's intention and the help of precedent may see you avoid the consequences of a conviction.

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