Justice Connect commends Victorian Government for decriminalising public intoxication

18 Jan 2023


Justice Connect commends the Victorian Government’s decision not to introduce new police powers to arrest or detain people in the decriminalisation of public drunkenness reform.

This long-overdue reform is testament to the tireless advocacy of the Day family and the Dhadjowa Foundation, alongside the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service (VALS) and the Human Rights Law Centre (HRLC).

By focusing on a health-based response to public intoxication that prioritises support over enforcement, the Victorian Government has shown leadership and commitment to community safety and wellbeing.

This legal reform has highlighted the disproportionate impact of public intoxication laws on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and people experiencing homelessness.

As Victoria’s specialist, free legal service for people experiencing or at risk of homelessness, Justice Connect’s Homeless Law has helped thousands of community members facing homelessness to resolve overwhelming fines and charges for being drunk in public.

“This reform will have a significant impact on people experiencing homelessness, who are forced to live their private lives in public places, and are at increased risk of police attention and criminalisation”, said Cameron Lavery, Head of Community Programs at Justice Connect.

“From over 20 years of client and casework insights, we know that public drunkenness needs a supportive health response, not an enforcement-based approach. This key decision from the Victorian Government not to add new police powers is a positive step towards an effective health response,” Lavery said.

The story of former Justice Connect client, Arthur*, demonstrates how important replacing the current enforcement-based response to public drunkenness will be for people experiencing homelessness across Victoria.

37-year-old Arthur was sleeping rough in the Melbourne CBD after some heavy drinking. Arthur had a long history of chronic homelessness and had diagnosed disabilities, including a cognitive impairment and alcohol dependence.

Arthur was abruptly woken by police and immediately restrained. Startled, Arthur struggled briefly before being pushed to the ground and charged with resisting arrest.

Despite Arthur’s complex health and personal circumstances, police were able to justify the physical nature of the arrest because he was drunk in public. This approach only escalated the situation and resulted in Arthur being arrested and charged.

The Victorian Government’s commitment to the full decriminalisation of public intoxication will mean people experiencing homelessness, like Arthur, will no longer be subjected to unnecessary trauma from an enforcement-first approach, and instead will receive a health-led response to ensure their safety.

*Names in this story have been changed to protect their identity.

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Emily Malone, Justice Connect
+61 3 9021 0149

About Justice Connect:
Justice Connect is a legal service organisation and charity that designs and delivers high impact interventions to increase access to legal support and progress social justice.

About Justice Connect’s Homeless Law program:
Justice Connect’s Homeless Law program is Victoria’s specialist free legal service for people experiencing or at risk of homelessness, and has worked to prevent and end homelessness for over 20 years.