One act that sits very comfortably in the ‘deplorable acts’ pile is spitting on someone. But is it actually illegal? Let’s take a look at what the law says in Australia.
While there is no doubt that spitting on someone is impolite, you may have wondered whether or not it is an offence. In fact, spitting on someone can be classed as common assault if committed intentionally.
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Common assault is an offence and, in some cases, can carry a prison sentence, however most likely results in a fine or community service.
A prison sentence is generally reserved for cases where serious injury was caused, and high culpability is present.
The offender will have higher culpability if they have previous convictions or there are aggravating factors, such as the attack is racially motivated, the assault was premeditated, or the victim was vulnerable.
In some cases, spitting can be considered a public order offence, particularly if it takes place near a school or other specified location. But it won’t be criminal unless done aggressively and directed against a person or property.
Spitting on the side of a street is not likely to be considered a criminal act. However, many local councils have implemented fines for spitting in certain public locations, like train stations, parks and public transport.
Spitting can still be considered assault if there was no contact. As long as the victim had reason to fear for their safety and the act was done with the intention of intimidating them, or with recklessness to the fact that they would be likely to feel afraid.
By law in NSW, under section 61 of the NSW Crimes Act, common assault is an offence and punishable by up to two years in prison.
It may also carry the possibility of a criminal conviction, which could seriously affect your present and future employment as well as travel to other countries.
Assaults against police officers acting in the course of their duty are rightly treated as serious offences. In Australia the punishment will be even harsher if a police officer and/or medic is the intended target: under the Queensland Criminal Code, spitting at a police officer can entail a 14-year prison sentence.
Criminal or not, spitting at someone isn’t nice – and with the kinds of penalisation you might be up against for what you consider a rather minor offence, it is not worth it.
Roger Firth is director of criminal law division at LHD Lawyers.
This article has been updated since its original publication.