Offences against public order

07 Sep 2016 - 16:38 | Version 8 |

Contributed by JulianMurphy and current to 1 May 2016

Offences against police

Under the Criminal Code it is an offence to assault, resist or hinder a police officer who is acting in the execution of his or her lawful duty. Offences against police are taken extremely seriously by the courts of the Northern Territory and regularly attract sentences of imprisonment.

It is important to note that these three offences (assault, resist and hinder police) only cover police who are acting in the course of their lawful duty. If a police officer acts outside their duty by, for example, using inappropriate force on a citizen or unlawfully entering a property, then a citizen who subsequently assaults, resists or hinders that police officer may have a defence to the charge.

Assault police

A person who assaults a police officer who is acting in the execution of their duty will have committed an offence [Criminal Code s189A]. This offence covers most people who spit at, physically threaten or otherwise assault a police officer. Persons found guilty of assaulting police can be sentenced to imprisonment for as long as 16 years if the police officer suffers serious harm (usually a broken bone), 7 years if the police officer suffers harm (usually any physical pain) or, otherwise, 2 years.

Assaults against other figures of authority such as security guards, bouncers and public transport employees will not come within this section but are also treated seriously by the courts. These assaults will usually be charged as assaults against workers [see Criminal Code s188A].

Resist police

It is an offence to resist a police officer who is going about their lawful duty as a police officer. It is also an offence to encourage or help another person to resist a police officer in these circumstances [Police Administration Act s158]. Trying to shrug off a police officer who is making a lawful arrest will usually make a person guilty of this offence. The maximum penalty for this offence is 6 months' imprisonment, although it more commonly results in a fine.

There is a separate offence of resisting a public officer (for example an employee of the Northern Territory government) who is attempting to engage in their duty under the law, this offence can be punished by imprisonment for up to 2 years [Criminal Code s121].

Hinder police

Similarly to resisting police, it is an offence to hinder or obstruct a police officer who is going about their lawful duty as a police officer (or, again, to assist or encourage another person to do this) [Police Administration Act s159].

There is a separate offence of obstructing or hindering a public transport security officer who is going about their lawful duty as a public transport officer [Public Transport (Passenger Safety) Act s32].

Failure to provide name and address

Police officers are entitled to ask a citizen for their name and address if they reasonably believe that the person may be able to assist in the investigation of an offence. Police making these requests must inform the person of the reason for the request. A person who fails to comply with a proper request for their name and address will be guilty of an offence and may be fined [Police Administration Act s134].

Offences against public order

The vast majority of offences against public order are contained in the Summary Offences Act. Only a selection of the most commonly charged of these offences are discussed here. The offences in this Act are often committed by persons in highly visible public places like shopping strips, malls, parks, taxi ranks, nightclubbing strips and the like. People charged with these offences may have been intoxicated at the time they are said to have acted unlawfully and as such may have an inaccurate or incomplete memory of the events. It can be helpful for a person charged with this offence to request from police any CCTV footage or body-worn camera footage they have of the incident. It is important that these requests are made as soon as possible as footage may only held for a short time before being deleted.

Riot and unlawful assembly

A person who, along with two or more other persons, assembles to carry out a common purpose and causes nearby persons to reasonably fear disturbance of the peace will have committed the offence of unlawful assembly [Criminal Code s63(1)]. Such persons can be sentenced to up to one year's imprisonment [Criminal Code s64].

A person in the above situation who does not just cause a fear of disturbance in nearby persons but actually goes ahead and acts in such a tumultuous way as to disturb the peace will have committed the more serious offence of taking part in a riot [Criminal Code s63(4)]. Such persons can be sentenced to up to three years' imprisonment [Criminal Code s65].

A person taking part in a riot involving 12 or more people may have committed a much more serious offence if he or she damages property or fails to comply with a police order to disperse. In this case, such a person can be sentenced to up to 14 years' imprisonment [Criminal Code s66(1) and (4)].

Disorderly behaviour

Perhaps the most commonly charged public order offence in the Northern Territory is that of disorderly behaviour in a public place [Summary Offences Act s47(a)]. To simply call this offence "disorderly behaviour" is somewhat misleading because there are a number of other varieties of behaviour which can fall within this offence: riotous, offensive and indecent behaviour are all outlawed by this offence, as are the more specific behaviours of obscene language and fighting in public. Though the offence is usually committed in public places it is technically possible to commit this offence on private property so long as the behaviour can be heard or seen by people in a public place. People found guilty of disorderly behaviour can be imprisoned for up to 6 months and/or fined $2,000.

Other disorderly type offences

It is worth mentioning a few other public order offences that are logically associated with disorderly behaviour. These include: disturbing public peace, behaving in a disorderly way in a police station, offensive behaviour in or around a house, and causing substantial annoyance to or disrupting the privacy or another person [see Summary Offences Act s47(b)-(f)]. These offences attract the same maximum penalty as disorderly behaviour (6 months' imprisonment and/or a $2,000 fine) but are most regularly dealt with by a fine.

Indecent behaviour, language and exposure

Indecent behaviour usually relates to behaviour that is sexual or might be taken as sexual by a reasonable person, where that behaviour is engaged in by a citizen in a public place, or in the hearing or view of the public, or in a police station. Indecent behaviour can involve lewd language or gestures. The indecent behaviour offence sections are Summary Offences Act ss47(a), 47(c). There is also an alternative offence covering the use of indecent language in public or in licenced premises [Summary Offences Act s53].

There is an additional offence for indecent exposure, commonly known as "flashing". This offence will have been committed where a person exposes themselves in view of a public place [Summary Offences Act s50]. The maximum penalty for these offences is 6 months' imprisonment and/or a $2,000 fine.

Violent conduct

This offence relates to certain conduct engaged in by groups. It is often charged in the situation of gang or group fights or vandalism. The offence is committed where two or more people engage in, or threaten to engage in, a violent act (which means conduct that is capable of injuring a person or damaging property) in such a way that a reasonable person nearby would fear for their safety [Summary Offences Act s47AA]. The maximum penalty for this offence is 12 months' imprisonment.

Undue noise

Police officers regularly receive noise complaints from members of the community regarding their neighbours. When police attend in these circumstances other people at the location have an obligation, if asked by police, to direct the police to the best of their knowledge to the person in charge of the property or the person responsible for the noise. Failing to assist police in these circumstances is an offence which can attract a $200 fine [Summary Offences Act s53E].

Police can then enter the property and, if the police officer thinks that the noise is at an unacceptable level, direct the person in charge to lower the noise or completely stop it. It then becomes an offence for the person in charge of the house to allow the noise to continue (although there is a 10 minute grace period to bring the noise to an acceptable level). This offence is punishable by a maximum fine of $2,000 [Summary Offences Act ss53A and 53B].

Loitering

The offence of loitering essentially involves failing to leave a place after police have formed a view that you had no good reason to be there and had told you to leave. Loitering can attract a penalty of 6 months' imprisonment or a $2,000 fine [Summary Offences Act s47A, see also s47B]. This offence is closely connected to the offence of trespass [see Trespass Act].

Offences on public transport

There are a number of offences relating to public transport. Many of these, including nuisance, offensive language and fare-evading, are punishable by a fine only [Public Transport (Passenger Safety) Act ss18, 19 and 21].

Firearms and other weapons offences

In the Northern Territory there are a number of laws around the circumstances in which firearms or other weapons can be owned and carried in public places. Most of the offences are now contained in the Weapons Control Act and the Firearms Act. It is important to note that these offences are by no means limited to firearms. In certain circumstances it may be illegal to carry or brandish anything that could conceivably be used as a weapon, such as sticks, rocks, spears, woomeras and knives.

Prohibited weapons

There are certain weapons that the Northern Territory Parliament has declared to be prohibited weapons, these include: flick knives, certain types of slingshot, buttefly knives, capsicum spray, knuckle dusters, studded gloves and imitation guns [Weapons Control Regulations schedule 2].

It is an offence to make, buy, sell or bring prohibited weapons into the Northern Territory. It is also an offence to possess, use or carry such weapons in the Northern Territory. The maximum penalty for this offence is 2 years' imprisonment [Weapons Control Act s6]. There are certain exceptions to this offence for police and other people who Parliament allows to deal with these weapons [Weapons Control Act s12].

Controlled weapons

There are certain weapons that the Northern Territory Parliament has declared to be controlled weapons, these include: knives, laser pointers, certain types of slingshot, spear guns, nightsticks, crossbows and cattle prods [Weapons Control Regulations schedule 1].

It is an offence for a person to possess, carry or use a controlled weapon in a public place or a school unless the person has a lawful reason to do so [Weapons Control Act s 7(1)]. Lawful reasons for possessing, carrying or using controlled weapons can include employment, hunting or the collection and display of weapons, but will usually depend on the circumstances of the case [Weapons Control Act ss 7(4) and (5)]. The maximum penalty for this offence is 2 years' imprisonment [Weapons Control Act ss7(1) and 7(3)].

Even if a person has a lawful reason to possess, carry or use a controlled weapon they still need to carry the weapon in a safe and secure manner. Failing to do so might mean that they have committed an offence punishable by a maximum of 2 years' imprisonment [Weapons Control Act ss7(2) and 7(3)].

Offensive weapons

It is an offence for a person to possess, carry or use an offensive weapon in a public place or a school unless the person has a lawful reason to do so [Weapons Control Act s8(1)]. Lawful reasons for possessing, carrying or using controlled weapons can include employment, hunting or the collection and display of weapons but will usually depend on the circumstances of the case [Weapons Control Act s8(3)]. The maximum penalty for this offence is 2 years' imprisonment [Weapons Control Act ss8(1) and 8(2)].

There are no strict categories of offensive weapons like there are for controlled and prohibited weapons. Anything can be an offensive weapon as long as it is either:
  • Made or modified to cause injury of fear of injury in a person or to cause damage to property; or
  • Used by a person who intends to cause injury of fear of injury in a person or to cause damage to property [Weapons Control Act s3].

Firearms

In the Northern Territory the Firearms Act creates a range of offences designed to control the possession and use of firearms. The Firearms Act deals with the following:
  • Licences and permits and use of firearms: anyone who possesses or uses firearms must have a licence or permit, although exemptions do apply. Restrictions apply for the issue of licences and permits to people who have been convicted of certain specified serious offences, such as drug supply offences and domestic violence offences [s58].
  • Registration: a person, other than the holder of a firearms dealer licence, must not sell, buy, possess or use firearms that are not registered [ss59].
  • Storage and safe keeping: anyone in possession of a firearm must ensure that their firearm is kept safe, is not stolen or lost, and that only authorised people possess or use it [s46]. The Firearms Regulations set out the exact requirements for firearm safes. The storage facilities required under the regulations differ depending on the type of firearm being stored [rr21-22].
  • Sale and purchase of firearms: both the person buying and selling a firearm have to have the relevant permit or licence or they will be committing an offence [ss62 and 63].
  • Disposal: a person who comes into possession of a firearm, but is not authorised to possess it, must immediately hand it in to the police [s67]. Just returning a firearm in accordance with section 67 will not cause a person to be in breach of any other section of the Firearms Act.
  • Altering firearms: it is an offence to alter a firearm which would affect its safety or to convert it into another category of firearm [s68].
  • Ammunition: it is an offence for a person to purchase or possess ammunition for a firearm unless they hold a licence or permit for it [s69].
  • Hiring and leasing of firearms: both the person hiring the firearm and the person leasing it have to be licensed [s73].
  • Unsafe firearms: it is an offence to possess or use an unsafe firearm, although it would amount to a defence if the person could prove that they didn't know and could not reasonably have known that the firearm was unsafe [s76].
  • Silencers and machineguns: it is an offence to possess or use either of these [s77] unless the person in possession of the silencer or machinegun has a firearms or museum collector's licence.
  • Carrying firearms in public places: it is an offence for a person to carry a firearm exposed to public view in a town, municipality or community government area. There are exceptions but very few [s78].
  • Discharging firearms on certain land: a person is not allowed to shoot a firearm on land unless they own or occupy the land; the occupier has consented; or they are authorised by another law [s79]. A similar restriction applies to possession of firearms on land that has clearly marked boundaries or fences [s80] or on certain Crown land [s81]. A person must not knowingly shoot a firearm from, towards or across a public road, street or place [s82].
  • Dangerous use of firearms: it is an offence to point or shoot a firearm at or in the direction of another person, whether in the course of a contest, game or otherwise. It is also an offence to shoot a firearm to endanger, annoy or frighten the public or a person [ss83 and 84].
  • Alcohol and firearms: a person must not have a firearm in their hands while under the influence of alcohol or a drug [s86].
Penalties vary for offences under the Firearms Act up to a maximum of imprisonment for 20 years.

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