Drunk and disorderly behaviour is unfortunately all too common on the streets of Victoria, but the law surrounding it has often been seen as discriminatory, particularly towards Indigenous people. In fact, the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody recommended that the law be abolished almost 30 years ago, yet it has remained in place in Victoria until now.
The current legislation refers to Section 13 of the Summary Offences Act 1966 (VIC) and makes it a criminal act to be “found drunk in a public place.” However, a person is deemed to be “drunk” if an ordinary person believes them to be, based on their speech, coordination, or other behaviour. This subjective assessment has resulted in many cases where Indigenous people have been unfairly targeted and penalized.
Fortunately, recent changes to the law in Victoria have taken societal norms into account while still maintaining public safety. The new legislation will replace the existing public drunkenness laws with a health-based regime. This change comes after the unfortunate events surrounding Tanya Day’s death, where she was removed from a train in Castlemaine for being “drunk and disorderly” and subsequently placed into custody.
The revisions to the law do not make it acceptable to be overtly drunk in public, but rather take into account the fact that many people may need assistance getting home safely. A health-based approach is seen as a more appropriate response to the issue, rather than simply locking people up.
This change will have an impact on both individuals and criminal lawyers, as well as police charges. The expert reference group established by the Victorian government will provide advice about the decriminalisation and development of alternative “health-based approaches” to the issues with the existing legislation.
It’s important to note that Victorian police will still have the right to remove and detain individuals who are acting in a way that is dangerous to themselves or to the public. The reforms aim to stop the situation and provide a meaningful and reformative approach for individuals, rather than simply punishing them.
In summary, the recent changes to the law surrounding drunk and disorderly offences in Victoria are an important step towards more equitable treatment of all individuals, particularly Indigenous people. By taking a health-based approach to the issue, the new legislation balances the need for public safety with a more compassionate and inclusive response to those who may be struggling with alcohol or substance abuse.