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This research report explores the legal status and implications of using abusive language in public. It aims to provide an in-depth analysis of relevant laws, consequences and enforcement of civil and criminal liability and their punishment, and the analysis of the related case laws.

KEYWORDS: Abusive language


Public spaces are an important asset to the cities. Public spaces are the place where people gather and meet with each other and create links or groups get to interact with each other. Public spaces are meant to be safe and inclusive environments where individuals can freely express themselves and engage in social interactions. However, using of vulgar language in society might foster an unfriendly environment and jeopardize other people’s rights and well-being. This raises a crucial concern about the legitimacy of such behaviour and the consequence of such behaviour.

The term "abusive language" describes the use of words, gestures, or expressions that are hurtful, disparaging, or threatening towards people because of their race, ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or other protected characteristics. In many democratic cultures, freedom of speech is a fundamental right, but it is not unrestricted, and there are legislative restrictions to protect others and uphold social order.


The use of insulting, demeaning, or damaging words or phrases with the goal to denigrate, degrade, or Insult people is referred to as abusive language. It can appear in many different ways and settings, each with its own significance and understanding. Here are some examples of typical harsh language:

1. Profanity

2. Insults and Name-calling

3. Hate Speech

4. Harassment

5. Verbal abuse

6. Cyber bullying


The legal approach of every country is different from each other in dealing with the abusive language used in public. It depends on the legal framework or social attitudes of every country.

  1. United Kingdom: The United Kingdom has laws that criminalize hate speech, which includes abusive language based on race, religion, sexual orientation, disability, and other protected characteristics. The Public Order Act 1986 and the Communications Act 2003 address offensive, threatening, or insulting language that is likely to cause harassment, alarm, or distress.

  2. Canada: Canada recognizes freedom of speech under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. However, it also imposes limits on hate speech. The Canadian Human Rights Act prohibits the communication of hate speech, including abusive language that promotes discrimination or incites hatred against individuals or groups based on protected grounds such as race, religion, or gender identity.

  3. Australia: Australia has laws that address hate speech and offensive language. Each state and territory has its own legislation regarding offensive behaviour, and the application of these laws can vary. The Racial Discrimination Act 1975 makes it unlawful to offend, insult, humiliate, or intimidate someone based on their race, while other legislation covers other protected attributes.


The legal and criminal consequences of using abusive language in public might differ based on the jurisdiction and the particular situation.

  1. Defamation: is one type of civil liability that involves abusive words and false claims that injure a person's reputation and negatively impact their personal or professional life. The right to launch a civil action seeking compensation for the injury caused may be available to the victim.

  2. Intentional Infliction of Emotional Anguish: The victim may have the right to initiate a civil case in order to receive compensation for the emotional injury they have endured if the abusive language is harsh, outrageous, and purposely used in order to cause them emotional anguish.

  3. Harassment: Using foul language repeatedly with the aim of intimidating, harassing, or threatening someone might result in legal responsibility. The victim may be entitled to initiate legal action for harassment or ask for a restraining order.

Criminal Liability:

  • Threats and Intimidation: Using abusive language in a way that directly threatens, intimidates, or incites violence against a person is illegal. Such behaviour can be sanctioned by assault, harassment, or other applicable laws.

  • According to Section 268 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, anybody who acts or does not do something that ultimately causes a common hurt or annoyance to the people, in general, is guilty of causing a public nuisance. A person can be held accountable under this Section if they use abusive language in a public setting because they would be upsetting the neighbourhood’s residents.

  • According to Section 294 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, anybody who commits an act in public that is deemed offensive in accordance with Section 292 of the same code is subject to punishment.

  • According to Section 354 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, anybody who attacks or uses criminal force on a woman with the intent to offend or knowing that doing so is likely to offend her modesty is subject to imprisonment as well as a fine.

  • Section 504 Indian Penal Code, 1860 is to prevent the intentional use of abusive language amounting to insult, giving rise to provocations causing the person against whom such words are used to commit a breach of peace. In this Section, it is shown how a person can provoke another to commit an offence that is criminal in nature and which can also harm the public peace at large.


Depending on the jurisdiction and the particular laws in force, using abusive language in public can result in fines, jail, and non-custodial consequences.

  • Fines: If you use offensive words in public, the court may impose fines. The gravity of the offence, the applicable jurisdiction, and any aggravating or mitigating circumstances can all affect the fine amount.

  • Incarceration: In some situations, especially where the abusive language incorporates threats, hate speech, or other grave wrongdoing, incarceration may be an option as a punishment. Depending on the jurisdiction and the specific regulations in force, the sentence's length may change.

  • Non-custodial sanctions: In certain countries, there may be non-custodial sanctions available as alternatives to incarceration for incidents of abusive language.

These actions may involve:

  1. Community service: As a punishment for using abusive language in public, offenders may be ordered to complete a set number of hours of community service.

  2. Rehabilitation programmes: In some circumstances, offenders may be required to take part in rehabilitation programmes, such as anger management or counselling, that address the underlying problems causing them to use abusive words.

  3. Probation: Offenders may be put on probation, which requires them to follow specific rules and submit to regular reporting to a probation officer. Additional fines or repercussions may apply if the probation requirements are not followed.


There have been several high-profile cases and legal precedents related to abusive language used in public. Here are a few notable examples:

  1. Snyder v. Phelps (2011): This case involved the Westboro Baptist Church, known for its anti-gay protests at military funerals. The Supreme Court of the United States ruled that their use of offensive and hurtful language was protected under the First Amendment's free speech clause, even though it caused emotional distress to the mourners.

  2. R v. St. Pierre (1990): In this Canadian case, the accused was charged with causing a disturbance by using offensive and abusive language in public. The Supreme Court of Canada held that offensive language, without additional elements such as threats or incitement to violence, is protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms' guarantee of freedom of expression.

  3. Football Association v. Mihaylov (2019): In this case, the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) charged the President of the Bulgarian Football Union with racist behaviour, including abusive language, during a European Championship qualifier match. The case resulted in sanctions against the Bulgarian Football Union and highlighted the consequences of discriminatory and abusive language in sports.

  4. It's important to note that legal precedents can vary between jurisdictions, and the interpretation of laws relating to abusive language in public can differ significantly.


The use of abusive language has a negative effect on both people and society as a whole. As it is disrespectful and shows a lack of empathy towards individuals or groups. it also creates a hostile environment that was unsafe for society. It is said that freedom of speech is an important right but this right should be used in a respectful and considerate manner, and if someone misuses this right should have been given harsh punishment.


The use of abusive language in public is generally seen as undesirable due to its disrespectful and harmful nature. It creates hostile environments, hinders productive dialogue, normalizes negative behaviour, and damages relationships and social cohesion. While freedom of speech is important, it is important to exercise it responsibly, respecting the rights and dignity of others. Constructive and respectful communication is key to fostering understanding, empathy, and a harmonious society.

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Garima Arora
Garima Arora
17 jul 2023
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