Advice on Public Order Offences

The various sections of the Public Order Act 1986 contain a number of offences (such as Riot, Violent Disorder, Affray, Threatening Behaviour and Intentional Harassment, Alarm or Distress.)

Violent Disorder (s.2)

This involves three or more persons together using or threatening unlawful violence. Their combined behaviour is such as would cause a person ‘of reasonable firmness’, present at the scene, to fear for their personal safety.

This is usually tried in the Crown Court, with a maximum sentence of five years’ imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine.

Affray (s.3)

For an offence of affray, a person uses or threatens unlawful violence, and this behaviour would again make the person ‘of reasonable firmness’ fear for their personal safety.

Whilst this bears obvious similarities to a s.2 offence, there is one crucial difference- the person ‘of reasonable firmness’ does not actually need to be at the scene. There can essentially be a hypothetical victim.

If tried in the Crown Court, the maximum sentence is three years’ imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine. If heard in the Magistrates’ Court, it is a maximum of six months’ imprisonment and/or a fine of up to £5,000.

Causing Fear or Provocation of Violence (s.4)

Often referred to as ‘threatening behaviour,’ it has to be shown that a person has used words, behaviour or ‘other representations’ with the intention of causing harassment, alarm or distress.

Unless it is racially aggravated, a s.4 offence will be tried only in the Magistrates’ Court. The maximum sentence is six months’ imprisonment and/or a fine.

Threatening, Abusive or Insulting Behaviour (s.5)

You may hear this being referred to as ‘disorderly behaviour.’ This might be causing a disturbance in the street or even shouting abuse at people waiting to catch public transport.

If the offence is committed whilst a person is drunk, they will be charged with the offence of drunk and disorderly behaviour.

s.5 offences are dealt with in the Magistrates’ Court and the maximum punishment is a fine- but it is important to bear in mind that a criminal conviction still results.

Contact Harrison Bundey

Telephone: 0113 200 7400
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