Earlier this week, The Gazette reported on a video, showing an instance of public urination on Market Place, Basingstoke, after it was sent to Business Improvement District (BID) over concerns about the conduct of those filming.

The video wasn’t reported to the police at the time, but reactions to the article were mixed, with some voicing concern for the welfare of the woman being filmed, while others viewed her actions to be wrong.

Alan Stone, of BID, said: “No one helped her, they just stood and filmed and laughed. What kind of society are we living in that it is more important to get a Youtube clip than help people?”

Sometimes, you’ve just got to go. But is urinating in public actually illegal? And should the real blame lie with the bystanders who film?

What the law says

While there is no general law making public urination illegal in the UK, there are a number of ways in which you can be found guilty for doing so:

Outraging Public Decency (Criminal Justice Act 2003) - prosecution under this act is extremely rare. However, a “plainly indecent” act carried out in public in front of two or more people, could result in an unlimited fine or prison terms

Indecent Exposure (Sexual Offences Act 2003) -  Indecent exposure occurs when a person displays part of themselves in a public place that is considered as being offensive or morally unacceptable. Punishment can range from a fine to a maximum 2 years prison sentence.

Penalty Notice for Disorder - PND (Section 5 of Public Order Act 1986) - This is the likeliest course of action of a police officer who catches someone urinating in public. PNDs are used by officers to deal with low level, anti-social and nuisance behaviour. A fine of £50 or £80 is issued, to be payed within 21 days of receipt of the notice.

Finally, public urination is usually including in the by-laws of individual local authorities under Section 235 of the Local Government Act 1972. The Basingstoke and Deane bylaws state that “no person shall urinate or defecate in any public place” and that this is punishable by a fine of up to £500 (Level 2). 

Public toilets

Finding a toilet when you really need one can be difficult at the best of times, and has been even harder during the coronavirus pandemic, with disruption to many facilities and some bars and restaurants closed. 

Basingstoke and Deane borough council are responsible for public toilets at the following sites:

Castons Yard

Eastrop Park

Worting Road (disabled access only)

Stratton Park (disabled access only)

Winchester Street, Overton.

Swan Street, Kingsclere.

Bell Street car park, Whitchurch.

Bourne Meadow, St Mary Bourne

However, these are open from 8am to 6pm, Monday to Friday, with disabled toilets accessible 24 hours a day with a radar key - not much help while on a night out in the town! 

Public urination and coronavirus

COVID-19 is predominantly transmitted through respiratory droplets such as saliva or discharge from the nose, for example when an infected person coughs or sneezes and another person comes into direct or indirect contact with these droplets.

Although advance technology has previously been able to detect coronaviruses in other substances, including blood, urine and faeces, scientists are as yet unsure as to whether Covid-19 could be transmitted this way.

In March, Metro reported on a survey from the World Health Organisation, which concluded that the virus may not be limited to the nose and mouth, to the surprise of scientists who previously believed the virus would be destroyed as it made its way to the gut.

Either way, hygiene is more important than ever during the pandemic, so finding a sanitized toilet is advisable to reduce risk of infection. 

What about filming public urination?

In the recent Basingstoke instance, much concern was raised about the filming of the woman, who was clearly intoxicated.

This is a morally complicated one. Filming someone without their consent, where they have a ‘reasonable expectation’ of privacy breaches civil privacy laws.

In addition, taking naked pictures or video of a person without their consent was made a criminal offence by the Supreme Court earlier this year, following a landmark campaign led by Emily Hunt. 

However, a public pavement is not considered a location where a person is granted that expectation of privacy. So the main issue in this case would be a moral one.

A spokesperson for Hampshire Constabulary stressed that every incident is different, and dependent on particularly context, but that welfare is a top priority.

“The first thing we would consider in a situation like this is whether the person is vulnerable. If a person is extremely intoxicated, they could also be at risk of harming themselves or at risk of being exploited by other people,” they said.

“If the public were to come across a similar scenario, they could seek advice or assistance from any one of a number of responsible partners who supervise the night time economy.

This includes the Street Pastors and door or licensed premises staff at any of the venues. If a community safety, police officer or police community support officer are in the vicinity, then of course you could approach them.”