Codifying public nuisance and outraging public decency

In our latest report, we recommend reforms to the common law offences of public nuisance and outraging public decency.

Public nuisance traditionally dealt with environmental nuisance such as noise, smells and obstruction, but its focus has shifted to more general forms of public misbehaviour, bringing a wider range of potential offenders into its scope. Outraging public decency is a related offence which criminalises behaviour or displays which are lewd, obscene or disgusting and take place in public.

This report follows on from our consultation paper, published in 2010. The responses largely agreed with our proposals, which were to:

  1. retain the offences
  2. restate the offences in statute largely in their existing form, and
  3. add a mental element of intention or recklessness to both offences

Professor David Ormerod QC, Law Commissioner for criminal law, said today:

“It is important to retain these offences which, as our research has shown, continue to serve a valuable purpose. They allow for prosecutions in situations where conduct of a seriously offensive nature does not fall within specific statutory offences – for example, where a person covertly takes photographs or films up women’s clothing (known as upskirting) outraging public decency is available to be charged. However, especially because the offences are punishable by up to life imprisonment, we consider that liability ought to depend on proof of a culpable state of mind, as is the case for most serious criminal offences.”

This project is part of a small series of simplification projects originally proposed in our Tenth Programme of Law Reform. It follows on from our project on “Simplification of Criminal Law: Kidnapping and Related Offences”, in which we recommended reforms to the common law offences of kidnapping and false imprisonment, and the statutory offence of child abduction. This series of projects aims to clarify the structure and modernise the language of criminal law, and make it more consistent and accessible.