The public nuisance laws in Queensland use language including the terms: disorderly, offensive, threatening and violent. While the word ‘violent’ is fairly definitive, and we can remove that word from our argument, the same can’t be said for the other terms.

‘Disorderly’, ‘offensive’ and ‘threatening’ can and do mean different things to different people at different times.

The Origin of the Public Nuisance Offence Laws

The existing public nuisance offence laws were derived from the Summary Offences Act 2005 (Qld), section 6. In this Act a public nuisance offence is described, “as a person who acts in a disorderly, threatening, offensive or violent manner”.

Furthermore, since 8 November 2010, police are authorised to issue infringement notices in instances of a public nuisance. The Queensland Police’s official statement on infringement notices arising from a public nuisance states:

Officers will use their discretion when dealing with public nuisance offences and focus on de-escalation of the incident and only issue an infringement notice for public nuisance in circumstances where the person would have otherwise had court proceedings commenced against them for the offence.”

While it seems fair to allow the officers to have limited discretion when handling public nuisance offences, the question arises whether the police are the best arbiters of what does and does not constitute ‘disorderly’, ‘offensive’ or ‘threatening’ behaviour.

The Public’s Perception of a Public Nuisance is Problematic

The problem arises because of the fact that the police officer often shows up on the scene after the public nuisance has taken place. They are often merely reporting to the complaint made by the victim.

Therefore, if they choose to issue an infringement notice for the alleged public nuisance, they are doing so based on the victim’s interpretation of the words ‘disorderly’, ‘offensive’ and ‘threatening’.

While we recognize the police officers are well-trained, well-meaning public servants, mistakes can easily be made. They may simply feel that issuing the infringement notice is the best way to handle that particular situation.

Whatever the reason, it is going to be the person who receives the infringement notice who ultimately pays the price. They pay the price of the victim’s interpretation of the words defining a public nuisance. They also pay the price of the officer’s mistake in trusting the victim’s interpretation of the Act.

The Good News

Thankfully, unless a person has been extremely threatening or violent, the courts can be very lenient when hearing a public nuisance case.

They see little value in disrupting a person’s life and livelihood over a night of drunken and disorderly conduct.

If you have been issued with a public nuisance infringement notice, hire a lawyer who can explain the process of fighting the charge. Depending on your particular circumstances, the effort may be well worth your while.