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:
- behaving in a way that causes to other people, like racial vilification, swearing and using obscene language or exposing your genitals
- some protests and demonstrations
- taking inappropriate photos of someone without their knowledge (‘upskirting’)
- without a permit
- spitting at someone
- disorderly conduct in a public place
- being told to stay away from a public place by the police (see Moving on from a public place)
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 .
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 choice about how they deal with potential breaches of the peace or what actions they take to try to restore social order.
Police can issue on-the-spot fines for:
- being drunk in a public place
- disorderly conduct in a public place
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.
Moving 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.
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 (using explosives to demolish a building) 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 than 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
Publications and resources
Disclaimer: The material in this print-out relates to the law as it applies in the state of Victoria. It is intended as a general guide only. Readers should not act on the basis of any material in this print-out without getting legal advice about their own particular situations. Victoria Legal Aid disclaims any liability howsoever caused to any person in respect of any action taken in reliance on the contents of the publication.
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Reviewed 06 May 2022