Criminal Law

By Satomi Hamon


Drunk in public? Here’s what’s up

As the weather gets warmer and the days longer, the number of drunk Australians gets higher. On the last weekend of October, twenty-one drunk people were assisted by ACT Police.

Ten of the people were taken into protective custody at the ACT Watch House, nine were taken to the Sobering Up Shelter, which monitors adults who are under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and two were released into the care of family members.

In the ACT, public drunkenness is not a crime. However, under the Intoxicated People (Care and Protection) Act 1994 (IPCP Act) the Police have the power to detain people who they reasonably believe are intoxicated in a public place.

Mere intoxication is not sufficient for police to detain a person under the IPCP Act, police may only detain people who they reasonably believe are intoxicated in a public place and who, as a result of that intoxication, are:

  • behaving in a disorderly way;
  • behaving in a way likely to cause injury or damage to property; or
  • incapable of protecting themselves from physical harm (s 4(1)).

The definition of intoxication for the purposes of the IPCP Act, is not confined to alcohol: ‘intoxicated’ means “apparently under the influence of alcohol, another drug, or a combination of alcohol, drugs or substances”.

A ‘public place’ is defined as “a place to which the public or a section of the public has access, including any school and associated land or premises”.

Alcohol is a common factor in criminal behaviour and public order issues. Depending on the circumstances, police have a range of options when dealing with an intoxicated person in a public place:

  • charging the person with an offence;
  • detaining the person for breach of the peace;
  • directing the person to leave the area using ‘move on’ powers; and
  • using powers under the IPCP Act.

If you are charged with an offence in the ACT or elsewhere, be sure to contact an experienced criminal lawyer for advice and representation.