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NYE Celebrations: Can you be arrested for simply being drunk in public?

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With New Year’s Eve celebrations just around the corner, leading criminal lawyers from Slater and Gordon have put together a legal guide to alcohol laws around the country, including drinking in public, drunk and disorderly and offensive language offences.

Slater and Gordon Criminal Lawyer Veronika Drago said the laws vary from state to state, with maximum penalties of thousands of dollars in fines and even jail time for some offences.

Question: Is it an offence to merely be drunk in public?

  • It is a criminal offence to simply be drunk in a public place in Victoria and Queensland, with maximum fines of $1,243.68 and $243.80 respectively.
  • In every other state and territory, a person must be behaving in a disorderly or offensive manner as well as being intoxicated to be charged with an offence.
  • Disorderly and nuisance offences carry fines in every state and even jail sentences in extreme cases in Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia and the Northern Territory.

Question: How drunk is ‘criminally intoxicated’?

  • In most states, the legal definition of ‘drunk’ or ‘intoxicated’ is when a person’s speech, balance, co-ordination or behaviour is noticeably affected or impaired by alcohol.
  • The threshold is apparently lower in Queensland, where being intoxicated is defined as simply being drunk or otherwise adversely affected by an intoxicating substance, rather than noticeably affected as in other states.

Question: Is it illegal to drink or have open containers of alcohol in public?

  • Revellers hoping to enjoy a glass of champagne at a New Year’s Eve picnic should double and triple check the state and council laws that regulate the public consumption of alcohol, because they vary significantly around the country.
    • NSW, Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia, ACT and NT all permit the drinking of alcohol in public places, except areas that have been declared ‘alcohol-free zones’.
    • In Queensland and Western Australia, there is a blanket ban on drinking or possessing open containers of alcohol in public, unless the area has been designated as a ‘wet area’ in Queensland or the relevant authority has given permission in WA.
  • Fines for public consumption of alcohol also vary significantly from state-to state.
    • Victoria is at the lower end of the scale, where officials simply direct people to stop drinking, seal their containers or dispose of their alcohol.

SA, WA and NT are at the higher end of the scale, with maximum fines of $1,250, $2,000 and $15,400 respectively. Additionally, entire communities are dry in the Northern Territory.

Question: What is a public place?

  • The definition of a ‘public place’ varies between each state and territory, but a general rule of thumb is that a public place is any area that is accessible to the general public.
    • Public places usually include footpaths, roads, parks, beaches, shopping centres, libraries and public transport, unless the state government or local council has declared otherwise.