Is It Legal To Swear In Public?

Whether you like it or not, swearing has gradually been normalised and dropping an F-bomb in mixed company would barely raise an eyebrow these days. But have you thought about whether swearing in public is legal in Australia? If so, read on.

So long as you’re not within ear shot of kids or the elderly, swearing isn’t really an issue, especially when you’re around friends. And, let’s face it, the F-word is pretty damn versatile and sometimes it just feels good to cuss in order to vent your frustrations.

If you’re interested in just how versatile the F-word is, here’s an enlightening video about it (Warning: Contains offensive language… obviously):

Swearing is considered a Summary Offence in some states, which are generally considered less serious offences and is usually related to crimes of public nuisance. According to legal reference website Lawgovpol:

Summary offences are generally dealt with quickly and efficiently. If the accused pleads guilty, the prosecution simply summarises the offences and establishes the basic facts. The accused or their legal counsel will speak on their behalf, offer mitigating factors and/or character references. The magistrate will then find the matter proven, speak briefly to the accused and deliver a sanction. This process may take no more than several minutes.

NSW, QLD, VIC, WA, NT, SA and TAS all have laws relating to summary offences. Swearing (also known as ‘offensive’ or ‘obscene language’) in public is classified as a summary offence. As with other types of summary offences (including vandalism, begging and flag burning), the case could be heard by a judge or magistrate with no jury involved.

In the NSW Summary Offences Act 1988, Section 4A, it states that:

A person must not use offensive language in or near, or within hearing from, a public place or a school.

Most of the summary offences in other states and territories share similar characteristics.

The punishment could be in the form of a fine or community service, unless the individual involved has a legitimate excuse for his behaviour.

Mind you, I’ve personally sworn in public many times and have never been pulled up on it. But now that you know that it is an offence to do so, swear at your own risk… or maybe just avoid using foul language when there are cops around.

Annoyingly, there is no official list of words that are legally deemed “offensive”; it’s up to law enforcement officers to determine whether the language is offensive or not. With that said, according to a landmark court case last year, it appears that “Fuck/” may be considered acceptable in public.

You can read up on all the previous instalments of Is It Legal? here.

Did you just catch yourself wondering if something was legal or not? Let us know and we may be able to answer it in our next Is It Legal? feature.

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