Whatever your views on swearing, and lets face it society has come a long way. The law still considers that swearing in certain circumstances is a criminal offence.

What is the Offence?

Offensive language is prohibited in or near a public place or school under Section 4A of the Summary Offences Act NSW 1988.

What is the Penalty?

The maximum penalty for offensive language is a $660 fine (6 penalty units) or a community correction order that is subject to a community work condition of up to 100 hours. (A bond with up to 100 community service).

So, what does ‘offensive’ mean?

We all have different views on what offends us personally. But when it comes to the law, in order for swearing to be offensive, it “must be likely to provoke reactions such as anger, disgust, resentment or outrage”.

It “must arouse a significant emotional reaction” in a (hypothetical) reasonable person.

The Court explained that the test must be viewed in a “contemporary” manner, limiting the scope of the offence to “the high end of the range that could be considered ‘offensive’”

(Ball v McIntyre (1966) FLR 237)

But it was an Accident!

It’s important to note that Section 4A (2) of the Act also provides a statutory defence to the crime of offensive language.

This defence mainly covers impulse or instinctive crude language.

So, if your offensive language is purely as a result of a stubbed toe in or near a public place or school….well you might just have a saving grace.


If you are going to Court on the Central Coast then you should get advice from a Central Coast criminal lawyer, like Coastal Lawyers.

Coastal Lawyers provide clear and easy to understand legal advice. We pride ourselves on being frank, honest and open with our clients. We set out all of your options in simple language so you can be confident to make decisions about your future.


The information contained in this legal resource is information only. It is not a substitute for your own research and/or legal advice. If you need legal advice, then you can book an obligation free appointment with Coastal Lawyers online.