Page 124 - Week 01 - Wednesday, 17 February 1993

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It goes on to explain how the presiding person at a meeting can ask the police to assist. The difficulty with it is that the police attending a meeting where there is disruption would need to take the people away and charge them. That takes the police officers away from what might be a rowdy situation. If they had the ability to impose an on-the-spot fine, they could say, "This is not all that serious a matter. The person is misbehaving and ought to have a fine". The police officer could then write a $100 fine. The police would have the choice of doing that.

If there was a particularly serious matter - say somebody at a public meeting was going through, turning over chairs and tables and being a menace to other people - the police might decide that this was not a matter for an on-the-spot fine, that it was a matter a magistrate should deal with, and would then charge the person. What could happen, though, in some cases is that the police could write an on-the-spot fine and the person may feel that he has been wronged, that all he was doing was presenting his opinion, which happened to differ from the rest of the meeting, and that his behaviour was perfectly normal. In that case the person would say, "No, I am not prepared to pay the on-the-spot fine. Instead, I will go to court and explain to the magistrate that I have been unfairly dealt with". So the civil liberties of that person are in no way interfered with; it is just that there is a flexibility of choice. Some people would say, "Okay, I was disrupting the meeting. I should not have been doing it. It is a fair cop. Blow it, but I do not want a police record. I do not want this to go any further. I will pay the $100 on-the-spot fine". That seems to me to be a perfectly logical way to go.

The next amendment I have suggested is to subsection 493(1), which relates to the possession of offensive weapons, and includes not only offensive weapons but a disabling substance. The fine could be $1,000 or imprisonment for six months. Such a weapon has to be carried without reasonable excuse in a public place in circumstances likely to cause alarm. We are not talking about somebody who happens to have buried on his person somewhere a carving knife he has bought in a shop and is on the way home to carve the roast. We are talking about somebody who is in some way causing a public nuisance. We could see a situation where the police may well decide that this is a more serious offence because of the way somebody is using an offensive weapon or they may choose to impose a $100 on-the-spot fine.

Similar provisions would apply to the offence of fighting, which we passed through this Assembly in December. Section 546A of the Act, offensive behaviour, reads:

A person shall not in, near, or within the view or hearing of a person in, a public place behave in a riotous, indecent, offensive or insulting manner.

It is one of the sections that police use for public misbehaviour - probably on many occasions with some trepidation, because a magistrate may well view the situation differently from the police. In this case, I think a person who has behaved in a riotous or indecent fashion, having received an on-the-spot fine from the police, may simply say, "Far better that I do not have a police record. Far better that I just accept that this is a fair cop". I think many of us in our society do accept that a punishment meted out in this way is a fair and reasonable thing and does not need to be challenged. The prerogative to challenge, I reiterate, is still there, and somebody could still go to court to plead innocence. That is not at any stage lost. Therefore any argument that this interferes with civil liberties, I think, is not tenable.

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