Outraging public decency

What constitutes outraging public decency?

Public decency is a level of behaviour which is generally acceptable to the public and is not obscene, disgusting or shocking for the observers.

Outraging public decency is an indictable common law offence which is punishable by unlimited imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine. To be guilty of this offence:

  • you must carry out an act which is lewd, obscene or of disgusting character, which outrages minimum standards of public decency as assessed by the jury;
  • the act must take place in a public place, or a place which is accessible to, or within view of, the public;
  • the act must take place in the actual presence of two or more persons who are capable of seeing it – it is irrelevant whether these people actually saw the act or were outraged by it.

Section 5(3) Criminal Law Act 1977 preserved the common law offence of conspiracy tending to corrupt public morals or outrage public decency. A person can be found guilty of this offence if they make an agreement with another person to engage in conduct which outrages public decency, but which does not amount to or involve the commission of an offence if carried out by a single person otherwise than in pursuance of an agreement.

Proposed reforms to outraging public decency

In its 2015 report Simplification of Criminal Law: Public Nuisance and Outraging Public Decency (Consultation Paper No. 193), the Law Commission recommends reforming the outraging public decency laws, which includes adding a mental element of intent or recklessness. The new offence would be:

    an act or display; which is obscene or disgusting to an extent which outrages minimum standards of public decency in contemporary society; in a place accessible to (or within view of) the public; where the defendant knew of the nature of the act or display (or was reckless as to what it was) and knew or intended that it would be in a place accessible to or within view of the public.

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For more information on:

  • Related offences
  • Exposure
  • Cottaging
  • Obscene Publications Act 1959