From penal colony to summary penalty: an historical anatomy of an offensive act : the Summary offences Act, 1970, no. 96 (N.S.W.)
thesisposted on 28.03.2022, 12:07 by M. O. Tubbs
On the 9th December 1970 a new criminal statute was assented to and became law. This new Act was said "to make provisions with respect to certain offences to be made punishable in a summary manner." As a logical corollary of the Act's preamble, the name given to this new statute (the short title) was the Summary Offences Act, 1970 (hereafter referred to as the Act). The preamble further stated its intention "to repeal the Vagrancy Act 1902 and certain provisions of the Police Offences Act 1901." The Act is divided into four parts, namely: Preliminary; Offences; Powers of Police; and General. Part II of the Act is further divided into seven divisions: Offences relating to public places; Vagrancy and similar offences; Prostitution; Betting; Frauds, unlawful possession, etc; Public Assemblies; and Other offences. While the long title of the Act may give the impression that certain criminal offences such as vagrancy, were being repealed, the reality was different as the promulgation of the Act did not result in a single previously enacted offence being abolished. On the contrary, rather than decriminalising any social activity or behaviour, the Act dramatically increased the number of possible acts to which criminal sanctions could be attached. The Act also had the effect of bringing together what might be called offences against perceived concepts of public order under a single criminal statute and to conjointly widen police powers for maintaining such public order. The passing into law of the Act introduced what were in essence a number of new offences, such as criminal trespass, unseemly words, demonstrating without permission. At the same time it re-enacted many traditional offences such as vagrancy, prostitution, consorting etc. There were thirty eight offences listed in the provisions of the Act, however, because of the wide definitions and the ambiguity of some of the provisions, it is impossible to state the number of possible acts of behaviour which could constitute an offence under the provisions of the Act. To say its reach was extreme would be almost to understate the wide-ranging nature of the Act's powers of control.