Behaviour in public that is against the law

Behaviour in public that is against the law

Laws about behaviour in public are mostly concerned with keeping order or keeping the peace.

Penalties for public order offences range from fines to jail sentences, depending on the seriousness of the offence.

Behaviour that is unlawful in public

The laws about behaviour in public relate to things like:

  • making graffiti
  • behaving in a way that causes offence to other people, like racial vilification, swearing and using obscene language or exposing your genitals
  • protests and demonstrations
  • taking inappropriate photos of someone without their knowledge (‘upskirting’)
  • lighting fires or setting off fireworks without a permit
  • spitting at someone
  • being drunk in a public place
  • disorderly conduct in a public place
  • being told to stay away from a public place by the police (see 'Move on from a public place', below)
  • littering
  • begging.

Most of the offences that are known as public order offences are listed under Victoria’s Summary Offences Act 1966.

Local councils also make laws about behaviour that affects the public in their areas, such as:

  • by-laws that ban alcohol in some public places
  • laws about busking
  • fining owners who fail to pick up after their dogs
  • fining people who park in restricted areas without a ticket or permit.

Loitering with intent to commit an indictable offence

It is an offence for someone who is known to be a thief or known to have committed drug-related offences to loiter (hang around) in a public place that is known to be associated with drug-related crimes. The police must prove that the person was in the place with the intention of committing an indictable offence.

With the exception of the above offence, it is not unlawful in Victoria to hang around at a public place – by yourself or with other people – unless you are committing an offence at the time, such as breaching the peace.

The role of police

The police have a legal duty to uphold the public ‘peace’, which means they have to take action to stop the law being broken and to restore public order. However, they have a great deal of discretion about how they deal with potential breaches of the peace or what actions they take to try to restore social order.

See Police powers and your rights for information about being stopped, searched or arrested by the police.

On-the-spot fines

Police can issue on-the-spot fines for:

  • being drunk in a public place
  • disorderly conduct in a public place
  • littering.

Police can also issue on-the-spot fines to people aged over 18 for a number of common offences, including:

  • indecent language
  • offensive behaviour
  • consuming or supplying liquor on unlicensed premises
  • failure to leave licensed premises when requested.

If you do not pay the fine or take other action by the due date it may end up costing you more money. See Options for dealing with fines.

Move on from a public place

Police can order you to move on from a public place if they suspect you are disrupting the peace. For more information see Being asked to move on from a public place

You will usually have to stay away from that area for a particular period of time. This can be anything up to 24 hours.

If you refuse to move on or stay away from an area the police can issue an on-the-spot fine of two penalty units. If the matter is heard in court, the maximum fine is five penalty units.

Public places

Basically, a public place is somewhere where members of the public are present or are permitted to be. Under the law, public places include:

  • any public thoroughfare, including roads, bridges and footpaths
  • parks, gardens and other places of recreation
  • train stations
  • public transport
  • places of worship, such as churches
  • government schools
  • theatres and other entertainment venues
  • licensed premises
  • racetracks and sports grounds.

Keeping a safe public environment

The main purpose of some public order offences is to protect the safety of the public from accidents or mishaps. These offences include:

  • carrying out a blasting operation without permission from council (or failing to follow directions from the council in relation to the operation)
  • leaving flammable materials lying around in a public without council permission
  • opening a drain or sewer or removing bits of road or footpath without permission
  • obstructing a road or footpath with a vehicle or some other goods
  • awnings lower that 2.13 metres that overhang a footpath or overhanging goods obstructing the footpath
  • making a cellar door or other opening from the footpath or public street without council permission

These offences carry penalties of up to five penalty units.

Get help

Find out how you can get help with criminal offences.