WTF, fined for swearing?

By Legal Eagle

The ABC reports that Victoria is bringing in laws whereby police can fine people who use indecent or offensive language:

The Victorian Government plans to introduce laws this week that will give police permanent power to issue on-the-spot fines to people who swear.

Under the proposed legislation, people could be fined close to $240 for language that is considered indecent or offensive.

Attorney-General Robert Clark says the changes mean police will not have to use the courts to deal with people who use bad language.

“We’re going to be confirming the power of police to issue on-the-spot infringement notices for these sorts of offences, which will free up police resources,” he said.

“It will also enable them to more effectively act against the sort of loud-mouthed, obnoxious behaviour that can make going out to public places unpleasant for other members of the public.”

I have to say that I don’t particularly like it when I’m sitting having a cuppa with my kids in tow and the people next to me start dropping the F-bomb liberally into their conversation (seriously, some people can make the F-word every second word in a sentence). But…fining them? $240? As my husband commented, it seems a lot for conduct which doesn’t actually harm anyone, or create a risk of harm. It is merely offensive.

And where do we draw the line? Obviously I try not to swear, but I confess that if I dropped something on my foot, I might say “sh*t!” before I thought better of it. Would that get me fined? In those circumstances, my exclamation is involuntary.

I’m sure that the police get filthy abuse every day on the job, and it can’t be pleasant. However, I can also see the potential for this kind of power to be abused by police who have taken a set against a person.

8 Comments

  1. Posted June 2, 2011 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

    I would have classed writing as more of an art than a trade. It’s all about effective communication of an idea, but without any sort of test of the value of the idea. I think generally a trade has to fullfill some sort of objective function that one can use to measure capability.

  2. Posted June 2, 2011 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

    I’d go with art, too desipis… but it is very technical (but then, good art is technically proficient). Any time I’ve had to give writing advice, it’s sounded awfully like my brother talking about milling a ‘foreigner’ on one of the lathes at work, or my partner talking about a ‘bullnose profile’ when it comes to skirting.

  3. Posted June 2, 2011 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

    And now you can buy things which protect dust jackets. Layers upon layers, protecting the writer’s thoughts from being disturbed too much.

    Heaven forbid they were READ too much – they might rub off!

  4. RipleyP
    Posted June 3, 2011 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    I find it interesting that in regard to the original topic that discussion would wander into the idea of having a therapeutic swear by other means such as different languages.

    Is there a hint of Lex injusta non est lex (an unjust law is no law at all) sneaking in?

    Do we potentially mock the law by breaching the spirit if maybe not the word of the law where the law appears to hold little merit?

  5. Mel
    Posted June 3, 2011 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    Having thought about this a bit more I think the law should be more concerned with “menace” than “offence”. Personally I’m offended whenever I here a teenager disparage something as “gay”, whenever I see a woman in a burka and whenever some street preacher hands me a pamphlet that says homosexuality is a sin. But tough, in a free and open society I must learn to tolerate it. Sure, I don’t have to like it and I can protest against it, but at the end of the day I have to put up with it.

    However, if offensive behaviour contains a material element of menace then I think it does become a legitimate matter for the law. For example, if the bolshie teen in the previous example is loudly using the word “gay” in a pejorative sense in a confined space like a train carriage with half a dozen oh his rowdy mates while a gay couple is cringing a few seats away then I reckon that should constitute unlawful conduct.

  6. Posted June 3, 2011 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    [email protected] That makes sense. Menace being incitement that you do oneself.

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