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Victoria to criminalize ‘outrageously’ offensive conduct

New laws criminalizing grossly offensive conduct will be created in Victoria after a campaign led by the husband of Leading Senior Constable Lynette Taylorone of four police officers killed on the Eastern Freeway in 2020.

Attorney General Jacyln Symes today announced the introduction of the Crimes Law Amendment Bill 2022, which creates a new statutory offense of engaging in conduct which is grossly offensive to community standards of behaviour.

The new offense will carry a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

She said the Eastern Freeway tragedy highlighted a gap in the response to cases of grossly offensive conduct.

Taylor, Senior Constable Kevin King, Constable Joshua Prestney and constable Glen Humphris held the driver Richard Pusey for speeding when they were hit by a truck and killed.

Pusey then filmed the officers as they died making vulgar comments. He was eventually sentenced to 10 months in prison after pleading guilty to drug possession, reckless driving endangering serious injury, speeding and outrage of public decency – an extremely rare charge.

Only three months of his sentence were related to his actions filming the dying officers.

Symes said the common law offense of contempt of public decency that was used in this case was archaic, unclear in scope and had no clear maximum penalty. It will be abolished as part of the introduction of the new offence.

She told reporters outside parliament:

What we had in the Eastern Freeway tragedy was behavior that horrified Victorians, and what the police and the Director of Public Prosecutions found was that it didn’t there was no corresponding offense for this behavior. So they went back to the old common law offense that hadn’t been used for a long time…There was very little guidance on how to apply it, what penalty to apply and there was disappointment, especially on the part of Lynette Taylor’s husband, Stuart Schulz, with this sentence. He came to see me, I gave him the commitment that I would not be in a position to create a rule just to create a law.

So we spent a lot of time thinking about the type of events that could be included in the law. To give the courts a little more advice… This is not designed to target general low-level offensive behavior. In Victoria, we have very high thresholds for offensive language, offensive behavior… [It is for] such a high level where everyone pretty much agrees that it’s just outrageous, and there should be consequences for that.

The new offense will apply to the conduct of any person in a place where their behavior can be seen or heard publicly. It will also require that an accused knew, or a reasonable person would have known, that his or her conduct was grossly offensive. Being intoxicated or using only indecent, obscene or profane language will be excluded from the offence.

Leader of the Opposition Matthew Guy and Shadow Attorney General Michael O’Brien support the bill, so that it can easily be passed by parliament.

The law also includes safeguards to ensure the offense is not used to unfairly target anyone, including the Director of Public Prosecutions’ consent for a charge to be brought.