November 16, 2017

In a South Australian first, police have been granted new powers to manage anti-social and disorderly behaviour by the declaration of a Public Precinct. Within the Public Precinct, police powers will be extended during certain times. Anyone who is in the Public Precinct at those times will be subject to the new police powers.

Adelaide's first declared public precinct

What is the declared Public Precinct?

There is only one declared Public Precinct in South Australia. It’s in the city-west area in Adelaide’s Central Business District. It is the area bordered by North Terrace, West Terrace, Currie Street and King William Street.

public precinct - map

Source: SA Police website

The declaration will apply to the city-west precinct during the following hours:

  • 6pm Friday nights to 6am Saturday mornings
  • 6pm Saturday nights to 6am Sunday mornings.

Police will have increased powers to deal with drunken and drug-induced behaviour, antisocial behaviour and criminal activity.

Why does Adelaide need a Declared Public Precinct?

The declared Public Precinct area targets Hindley Street, which is a popular and busy nightspot. It has long had a reputation for attracting disruptive behaviour, despite a permanent police presence. Social issues surrounding increasing drug and alcohol use have fuelled the issue.

The South Australian Attorney-General recently observed that in the Hindley Street area, on average more offences are recorded for Friday and Saturday nights than for the rest of the week combined.

Police already have powers to make people “move-on” from public spaces. This is usually a direction to a person or group to move away from a public space for a specific time period. Move-on directions can be made when:

  • Police suspect that an offence is about to be committed.
  • There’s an obstruction of some sort.
  • Members of the public are concerned that an offence is about to be committed.

Most Australian States and Territories have move-on laws.

But with increasing problems in the city-west area, the South Australian Government decided to go a step further. Amendments to the South Australian criminal law were passed by Parliament and came into force in February 2017. In November 2017, the first Public Precinct declaration was made.

A declaration can be made by the Government if it believes that there’s a reasonable chance that there will be a threat to public order and safety. The declaration can’t be in force for more than 12 hours in any 24 hour period. The declaration can last for one year, unless the Government chooses to revoke the declaration at an earlier time.

SA Police say that the declaration “will significantly enhance the ability of SA Police to appropriately manage conduct that poses a risk to public safety and order for members of the community using this area.“

Police powers in declared Public Precincts

SA Police will have the following powers in the declared Public Precinct:

  • Conduct metal detector searches of any person (or their property) for weapons.
  • Conduct searches for drugs.
  • Order a person or group to leave the precinct.
  • Ban any person who has committed an offence or behaves in an offensive or disorderly manner.
  • Remove children from the area if they are:
    • In danger of being harmed or abused.
    • Behaving in an offensive or disorderly manner.
    • Committing or about to commit an offence.

In essence, the police will now have similar powers to the ones that they have already had for a licenced venue (for example, a bar or a nightclub).

Police also have powers to charge people with offences including:

  • Remaining in or re-entering the precinct after police have ordered them to leave.
  • Offensive and disorderly conduct.
  • Carrying offensive weapons and/or dangerous articles.
  • Failing to comply with a barring order (ban).
  • Hindering police.

There are also other offences which include prostitution, indecency and urinating or defecating in a public place.

These laws don’t stop police from arresting or reporting a person for more serious offences.

The maximum penalties for some of the offences are significant. For example, carrying a weapon can attract a $10,000 fine and imprisonment for up to two years.

Some of the less serious offences will be dealt with by an expiation notice being issued. Remember that if you pay the expiation, you are admitting the offence. This means that you can’t challenge the expiation after you have paid it. For more serious offences, you will receive a summons and will need to attend court to plead guilty or not guilty to the offence.

If you have been charged with an offence in a Public Precinct, you should seek legal advice immediately to work out:

  • Whether to pay the expiation fee.
  • Whether you have a defence to the charge.
  • Whether a guilty plea or expiation payment will become part of your criminal record.
  • The consequences and your chances of success if you choose to plead not guilty.
  • Whether you are at risk of imprisonment.

Websters Lawyers has an outstanding team of criminal lawyers who can assist you with these issues. Contact us today for a free first consultation. We’re here to help.