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Fallout over 'foul' language charge being dismissed

A university student's parting shot at a Bondi Junction police officer has reignited debate over what constitutes offensive language.

Science student Henry Grech, 22, had an offensive language charge against him reportedly cleared in Waverley Local Court yesterday after NSW magistrate Robbie Williams decided the word "prick" would not offend a "reasonable person".

The decision has been slammed by the police union and media commentators, who criticised Mr Williams for not defending police officers working at the coalface of the criminal justice system.

"For a police officer who's doing his job to be subjected to verbal abuse in that way, which is clearly directed at them ... we think that falls fairly and squarely into the category of offensive language," NSW Police Association secretary Peter Remfrey said.

"If the officer satisfies himself that he's offended by that language, then he's entitled to make that arrest and we would expect that the criminal justice system would support the police officers in that area."

Figures show recorded incidents of offensive language have been trending up over the past decade at a rate of more than 2 per cent each year.

Police recorded more than 6700 such incidents in 2009, the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research reported.

Corresponding charge and conviction rates were not immediately available.

But Mr Grech is not the first man to have had a charge of offensive language dismissed.

Magistrate Pat O'Shane unleashed a storm of criticism when she awarded costs to a man who had given a bus full of police officers the finger and yelled "Youse are f---ed" at the end of a drunken night out at The Rocks in 2005.

The lawyer who represented that man said yesterday's decision showed police needed to be a "little thicker-skinned".

"I stood up for the magistrate's decision on that occasion and I stand up for the magistrate's decision on this occasion," Philip Stewart, of Nyman Gibson Stewart Lawyers, said.

"There are cases where police officers have used such language and I think police should be less political ... and they should be more understanding of the way that society is today."

Dubbo magistrate David Heilpern dismissed the same charge against a juvenile, saying the F-word was "extremely commonplace" and had "lost much of its punch".

He went on: "I have stood on Sydney suburban railway stations while private school uniformed kids (girls and boys) yell 'F--- off!' to each other across platforms without anyone looking up from their newspaper in surprise.

"I too have had the experience of having witnesses being cross-examined and responding to propositions by saying 'F--- off - it didn't happen like that.'

"I have had witnesses who, when asked their name, answer John f---ing Smith."

But Mr Remfrey said police officers deserved the same respect as magistrates.

"At the end of the day if it was ... directed at a magistrate in a court I would imagine there would be a completely different outcome," he said.

"Police officers are an integral part of the criminal justice system. They ought to be treated no different to magistrates and judges and this sends a really poor message to the community."

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ONTD_P, what do you think constitutes as offensive language?
Tags: australia, language
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