With the spotlight on intoxication and violence in Queensland nightclubs and bars police are more likely than ever to be enforcing laws against drunk and unruly behaviour over this festive season.

Natasha Shorter, an experienced criminal lawyer and team leader for the criminal law team at Quinn & Scattini, discusses what constitutes drunk and disorderly behaviour, the potential penalties, the rights and obligations of the person and ability to be charged even if the disturbance occurs in licensed premises.

Some readers may be surprised to hear that, under the Summary Offences Act 2005 (Qld), simply being drunk in a public place is an offence. Police officers will arrest an offender and take them back to the station or watch-house. The officer-in-charge at that establishment may decide to discontinue the arrest and release an offender to a ‘place of safety’ on the signed undertaking of another person; alternatively an offender may be kept in custody until they sober up. This offence is punishable by a $220.00 fine.

Public Nuisance, also under the Summary Offences Act 2005 (Qld), is a more serious offence. A person charged with this offence will need to face the Magistrates court (unless the offence occurred in South Brisbane or Townsville). You can be charged with public nuisance if:

  • you behave in a disorderly, offensive, threatening or violent manner whilst, as the name suggests, in a public space; and
  • Your conduct interferes or is likely to interfere with another person’s passage through or peaceful enjoyment of that space.

Public Nuisance is a very broad offence primarily targeted at obscene or offensive language and threatening conduct. However it overlaps with other offences and may extend to urinating in public and wilful exposure (these are offences of their own). Public nuisance is punishable by a fine up to $1100.00 or 6 months imprisonment. A lawyer will be able to assist you if you are charged with this offence.

Police have the power to issue you with a ‘move on direction’ if you are in a public place and your presence or behaviour has;

  • been causing anxiety to a person entering or leaving a place;
  • interfering with trade or business;
  • disrupting the peaceable and orderly conduct of any event; or
  • police suspect your behaviour is disorderly, offensive or threatening.

An officer can direct you to leave the area in question and not return for a period of 24 hours. It is advisable that you abide by and do not dispute such a direction. If you defy a direction you can be charged with more serious offences including, contravening a direction or obstructing a police officer.

It is worthwhile noting that drunk or unruly behaviour is not just an offence if it is committed in a public place. If you are drunk and disorderly or create a disturbance in a license premises you may, in accordance with the Liquor Act 1992 (Qld), be fined $2750.00.”