A Sydney District judge has delved into whether the c-word is offensive in a court case featuring a peace activist.
He’s a well-known figure around Sydney, often appearing at train stations or major sporting events wearing a sandwich board with varying messages.
But Danny Lim, the Sydneysider and activist, has come out victorious in a case exploring whether the c-word is offensive in Australia.
According to a NSW District judge, it appears not.
Mr Lim was convicted of offensive behaviour after donning a sandwich board in 2015 seemingly calling the then-prime minister Tony Abbot the c-word.
The board read: “PEACE SMILE PEOPLE CAN CHANGE “TONY YOU C*N’T..” LIAR, HEARTLESS, CRUEL PEACE BE WITH YOU f DANNY’S PAGE.
While the back of the board read: “TRICKY LYING TONY YOU C*N’T SCREW EDUCATION HEALTH, JOBS & THE ENVIRONMENT CHILDREN’S CHILDREN’S FUTURE SMILE f DANNY’S PAGE.
An apostrophe was used to make it appear like the word 'can’t' and the back of the board had the letter U replaced with an upside down A.
On Tuesday, Judge A.C Scotting upheld Lim’s appeal of the conviction, saying politicians were often subject to public criticism.
But he also delved into just how – and whether – the c-word is offensive.
Judge Scotting explained the word is now more prevalent in everyday language.
“It is commonplace in movies and television entertainment, although it is not without restriction in that context," he said.
"The impugned word is of ancient English origin and featured in Shakespeare’s Hamlet."
And was it offensive in Australia? Well, not really, the conclusion held.
“The prevalence of the impugned word in Australian language is evidence that it is considered less offensive in Australia than other English speaking countries, such as the United States,” Judge Scotting said.
“However, that also appears to be changing as is evidenced from the increase in American entertainment content featuring the impugned word.”
He said he was not satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that a reasonable person would have had a significant emotional reaction such as anger, disgust, resentment or outrage to the sign.
“Whilst the conduct was inappropriate and in poor taste, I am not satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that it was offensive, or so offensive as to be considered in the high end of the range of what would be considered to be offensive,” the judge said.
There was also doubt about the usage of the c-word. Judge Scotting said Lim did not “unequivocally use the impugned word”.
“The language used was clearly a play on words. If the appellant’s conduct was offensive, contrary to my view, in my view it was only marginally so.”
Judge Scotting also said the case was about the democratic right to criticise politicians.
“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.”