Australia is one of the few countries in the world – along with the UK – that has developed a system of on-the-spot fines for ‘anti-social behaviour’ in recent years.
And like the UK – the penalties have developed in arbitrary and petty directions, such as penalising people for swearing.
The Australian district of Victoria brought through on the spot fines for swearing – and gave out nearly 800 fines in 2009-10. Meanwhile, the UK town of Barnsley announced a similar crackdown on ‘effing’ and ‘jeffing’. Now Australians are out in protest, holding a ‘swear-in’ to point out the absurdity of the law.
These fines are completely unjust and arbitrary – especially at a time when swearing has become more current than ever in popular culture. Indeed, in 2001, a judge threw out a conviction for swearing (at police officers), saying that the man was using ‘the language of his generation’. The point being that you cannot convict somebody for doing something that everybody does.
One could argue that wanton swearing should be frowned upon – and indeed there is a good case for that. But this is the terrain of morality and civility, not of law. The law is there to prosecute crimes, not to enforce politeness. To try to do otherwise is to the detriment of both politeness and law.
Australian on spot fines for swearing: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2011-05-31/beware-the-swear-word-or-cop-a-fine/2738352
Swear-in protest: http://www.digitaljournal.com/article/307493#ixzz1TV2xTlsK
UK fines for swearing: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-south-yorkshire-13589803
Judge overturns conviction for swearing: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/education/1296347.stm