Public Order Offences

At Rees Clayton Solicitors, we can offer extensive advice and support to you if you have been charged with a public order offence. There are numerous offences that fall under the category of disrupting public order, the law in this area is considerably large and criminalises words and behaviour.

  • The first offence is administrated by Section 1 of the Public Order Act 1986. The offence of riot is criminalised where 12 or more people, present in a public or private place, use or threaten unlawful violence. They must act with a common purpose and collectively cause a reasonable person, who is present at the place of riot, to fear for his personal safety. This person is hypothetical, however, and is used to guide the court’s decision. The offence is tried on indictment. This means it will be heard at the Crown Court. If you are found guilty, the court can impose a maximum sentence of 10 years imprisonment or a fine, or in some cases, both.
  • The next offence, according to Section 2 of the Public Order Act 1986, is violent disorder. The nature of the offence is identical to riot. However, violent disorder only applies where there is 3 or more people who are using or threatening violence. The offence can be tried either way, meaning it can be heard at either the Magistrates Court or the Crown Court. In general, it is usually heard in the Crown Court. The maximum penalty for the offence is 5 years imprisonment or a fine, or again, in some cases can be both.
  • Following the Public Order Act 1986, Section 3 governs the offence of affray. This is the use of or threat of unlawful violence against another. Conduct must have, again, caused a reasonable person of firmness present at the scene to fear for his personal safety. This is an offence which can be tried either way, meaning it can be heard at either the Magistrates Court or Crown Court. It is normally tried summarily, in the Magistrates Court. The maximum sentence for this offence is 3 years imprisonment, however it is common that the penalties are much less.
  • Section 4 of the Public Order Act 1986 can be applied where there has been a fear or provocation of violence. This offence consists of the use of threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour. It is a summary offence, which means that it will be tried at the Magistrates Court. If found guilty, the maximum sentence can be 6 months imprisonment. However, if the offence is racially aggravated, the Crown Court can impose a maximum sentence of 2 years imprisonment.
  • Section 4A of the Public Order Act 1986 regulates the intentional causing of harassment, alarm or distress. It is a summary offence, which means it is tried in the Magistrates Court. The maximum penalty for committing this offence is 6 months imprisonment or a fine. If the offence was racially aggravated, the Crown Court can impose a 2-year custodial sentence.
  • Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 oversees the offence of harassment, causing alarm and distress. It is a summary offence, meaning it will be tried at the Magistrates Court. If found guilty, the penalty for the offence is a standard Level 3 fine (£180). If the court finds that the offence was racially aggravated, they can impose a Level 4 fine instead.

It can be a defence if, the accused had no reason to believe anyone within hearing or sight was likely to be harassed, or caused alarm or distress. If inside a house, the accused had no reason to believe anyone outside would have heard it, there is a defence. If the action was reasonable, there is also a defence.

The law on public order offences is substantive, therefore can be confusing to the ordinary person. At Rees Clayton Solicitors, our criminal defence team has vast experience in providing legal advice and is ready to assess your case. We want to help you and are ready to build your case today. Call us if you have been accused of a public order offence – on 01282 678767 / 0330 053 6767 or contact us online.