Imagine a billionaire and a multi-millionaire, going blow for
blow in a public street brawl in the middle of the day, the fight
captured by photographers and splashed across front pages of
Sure it's hard to believe, but exactly what is the law
regarding fighting in public? We've seen terrible consequences
of the 'coward's punch' that fells unsuspecting
victims, and toughened laws sending drunken assailants who kill to
mandatory jail sentences.
But what about public fisticuffs between mates or among family
members? Can it be a private matter where the law has no role? Does
someone have to make a complaint to police before charges are
A two-sided brawl can be classified as affray, a crime against
public order. Affray involves a disturbance of the peace that is
violent, it can be public or in private, and, crucially, a
bystander might reasonably be expected to be afraid.
Affray is a serious crime that carries a maximum ten years jail.
Section 93C of the NSW Crimes Act spells it out:
"A person who uses or threatens unlawful violence towards
another and whose conduct is such as would cause a person of
reasonable firmness present at the scene to fear for his or her
personal safety is guilty of affray and liable to imprisonment for
Curiously the section goes on to make it clear that the offense
can occur even in a hypothetical situation where there isn't
actually anyone present other than the fighters. It's enough
that a person of reasonable firmness - meaning someone who
isn't unduly nervous - would have been frightened if they had
Affray came into law in 1988 after the violent Milperra bikie
clash with much much stiffer sentences than the more usual charge
of common assault. Affray is being used more and more by police for
public brawls as they don't have to prove who was the
Assault comes under Section 61 of the Crimes Act and is used
when a person physically attacks another person but does not cause
an injury that could elevate the charge to bodily harm or grievous
bodily harm. It can include spitting or threatening to attack
another person. Common assault has a two year maximum prison
If you – or a brawling billionaire – are charged it
would be wise to get a good lawyer. There are defences against a
charge of assault such as self defence or, in the case of a child,
lawful chastisement. The consequences of a conviction can be very
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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