Public Order Offences

public order offence

What are Public Order offences?

There are many public order offences set out in the Public Order Act 1986. They vary in seriousness and cover a wide range of situations.

The offences include:

s5 Public Order Act 1986 – Causing harassment, alarm or distress by using threatening, abusive or insulting behaviour. The sentence for this is usually a financial penalty.

s4A Public Order Act 1986 – Intentional harassment, alarm or distress. The offence is caused by using threatening, abusing or insulting words, behaviour or disorderly behaviour, either in person or in writing. The maximum sentence for s4A Public Order Act 1986 is six months in prison, unless it is found to be racially aggravated, in which case it could be heard in the Crown Court and a harsher penalty given.

s4 Public Order Act 1986 – Fear or provocation of violence, caused by using towards another threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, INTENDING to cause that person to believe that immediate violence will be used against them, or another person. Or to provoke the immediate use of violence by them. Again, the maximum sentence is six months in prison, unless said to be racially aggravated.

s3 Public Order Act 1986 – Affray. This offence requires 2 or more people who are using threatening behaviour and causing others to fear for their safety. Situations often include nights out that result in a disturbance. This is a more serious offence and can lead to a 3 year prison sentence at the Crown Court.

s2 Public Order Act 1986 – Violent Disorder. This is caused when 3 or more people use or threaten unlawful violence which would cause a person present to fear for their personal safety. It is a serious offence and can carry a prison sentence of up to 5 years.

s1 Public Order Act 1986 – Riot. This is caused where 12 or more people are present together and use or threaten unlawful violence and are acting together with ‘common purpose’. The conduct of them together must be such that an average person would feel fear. This is the more serious of the public order offences and can carry a sentence of up to 10 years in prison.

New Sentencing Guidelines in respect of Public Order Offences recently came into force.

The law in this area is fairly complex and there are defences available. If you find yourself accused of a public order offence you should seek legal advice, and you can contact a member of our team here.