Public decency constitutes a level of behaviour which is generally accepted in the public and is not obscene, disgusting or shocking for the observers. In order to preserve public decency there are certain statutory and common law controls which are imposed on the individuals in order to prevent outraging public decency.
Outraging public decency is an indictable offence. Any person who carries out an act of obscene nature in the public can be charged with this offence. There is no need for the intention to affect disgust or annoy the public or not by his or her actions. By ‘in the public’ it is meant that there is a possibility that more than one person sees these actions. If this behaviour takes place in the private, a person cannot be charged with this offence. Conviction on indictment or fine or imprisonment on summary conviction is a maximum of 6 months or a fine. A person can be found guilty of conspiracy to outraging public policy if that person makes an agreement with another person to engage in an obscene conduct. There are many other statutory offences which can constitute outraging public decency, they are listed below.
A person will face criminal liability for publication of defamatory, seditious, blasphemous or obscene matters. Any publication of an obscene article is also an offence. By obscene it is meant that it is of such a nature which would have a depriving or corrupting effect on an observer; reader or a person who hears about it. It is also prohibited to possess such an obscene article for gain. A person can be charged with an offence even if he or she sends an obscene message to someone through public telecommunication systems.
European Convention of Human Rights protects the right of freedom of expression, the prohibition on publishing articles could possibly constitute infringement of such a right however this right is subject to an important exception. The right must be necessary in a democratic society and must be in accordance with law. Such a publication would represent danger to public, publishing such article would most definitely have a corrupting effect on people therefore this is prohibited by the statute.
It is also common law offence to bathe uncovered in a public place. It is not an excuse if other people normally bathe at this place also uncovered. Sexual activity in the public place can also constitute outraging public decency, and it is an offence to engage in sexual activity in a public lavatory. A person could be liable for a maximum of six months imprisonment for summary conviction or a fine. An indecent exposure of any part of the body can also constitute an offence. A person who intentionally exposes his genitals to someone causing him distress may be liable for conviction on indictment for a maximum imprisonment of 2 years and on summary conviction a maximum of six months or a fine. It is also an offence to keep disorderly house where disorderly behaviour is taking place. Disorderly behaviour was held to include indecent performances or exhibitions which if carried out at a public place would amount to outraging public decency. The penalty for this offence depends on the discretion of the court; it can be fine or imprisonment. Exhibiting ‘human earrings’ made from freeze-dried human foetuses in art gallery were held to constitute outraging public decency. It is an offence to expose a dead body near a public highway as this would outrage public decency. It is prohibited to detain a dead body and prevent a burial in a decent manner. A person charged with such an offence can be liable for imprisonment or a fine. A person’s fatal remains must also be held in a decent way so that it does not amount to outraging public decency.
It is interesting to note that offenders charged with sexual offences are entitled to their anonymity being withheld. Such a protection depends on the discretion of the court and in some circumstances the judge can displace anonymity. Sex offenders who were charged with offences under Sexual Offences Act and other dangerous persons in relation to such offences should be registered in Violent and Sex Offenders Register.
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