Does the ordinary n find the c-word offensive?
That is a question a NSW District Court judge had to consider on Tuesday during an appeal for Danny Lim, a man many Sydneysiders would recognise from his bright sandwich boards bearing political and social messages.
Mr Lim was convicted of offensive behaviour for standing on busy New South Head Road, Edgecliff, one morning in August 2015, wearing a sign that appeared to call then prime minister Tony Abbott a “c—“.
The front of the sign read: “PEACE SMILE PEOPLE CAN CHANGE TONY YOU C—. LIAR, HEARTLESS, CRUEL. PEACE BE WITH YOU.”
The back of the sign read: “TRICKY LYING TONY YOU C— SCREW EDUCATION HEALTH, JOBS & THE ENVIRONMENT CHILDREN’S FUTURE SMILE”
The word included an apostrophe as if it was the word “can’t”, and the letter “U” was represented by an upside-down “A”.
In February last year, a magistrate accepted it was a play on words, but deemed it offensive because a “reasonable person” would have been offended by the use of “c—” in reference to the prime minister.
For a court to deem any behaviour offensive, it must be considered likely to invoke “anger, disgust, resentment or outrage”, and arouse a “significant emotional reaction”.
Judge Andrew Scotting??? disagreed with the magistrate’s decision and quashed Mr Lim’s conviction.
The judge noted “c—” was referenced in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, was used regularly on television, and was less offensive in than other English-speaking countries.
He said by depicting the word like “can’t”, Mr Lim was making a play on words and did not “unequivocally” use the swear word.
“This is particularly demonstrated by the inclusion of the apostrophe in the relevant position.
“The front of the sandwich board is capable of being construed as being clever or light-hearted and thereby removing or reducing the force of the impugned word. It is also capable of being read as the word ‘can’t’.”
The judge said Mr Lim’s conduct was “in poor taste”, but was unlikely to have sparked a significant emotional reaction.
He said Mr Lim had demonstrated the “reasonable excuse” defence, saying his actions were political commentary.
Judge Scotting said politicians were often publicly criticised.
“This is an essential and accepted part of any democracy. That criticism can often extend to personal denigration or perhaps even ridicule, but still maintain its essential character as political comment.
“There is no reason to conclude that the prime minister, as the leader of the federal government, should be treated any differently to any other person who holds or seeks political office.”