Public Order Offences

These offences are increasingly common in our heavily monitored and patrolled town centres. The prosecution of these offences can be said to arise from a stressed binge drinking culture where public spaces are covered by sophisticated closed circuit cameras, and private spaces controlled by private security firms.

The police like to prosecute and arrest for public order offences, the press like to criticise the young for the commission of lawless behaviour in our town centres. This of course sends the climate of fear and contributes to a feeling of lawlessness that results in heavy handed policing and prosecution of the many.

Public order crimes are those of violent disorder, affray and assaults committed in public places. The fact that other offenders are never apprehended and arrested has no bearing on the sentence imposed by the court. The political views of the offenders are irrelevant, and the location of the violence is not relevant. The only distinction the courts reflect is the distinction between planned and spontaneous violence. Pre-meditated and organised violence attracting lengthy prison terms.

Violent Disorder: s2 Public Order Act 1986

This offence can simply be though of to represent ‘mob violence’. A situation where 3 or more persons are present and using or threatening violence. It is usually tried in the crown court where the maximum sentence is 5 years imprisonment and an unlimited fine. Racially aggravated forms of the offence are punished under separate legislation by lengthy sentences. Use of weapons, previous convictions for violence, pre meditation and gang involvement all aggravate the sentence disposal.

In the case of Jackson-Crisp 1989 a group of 12 youths fighting and kicking in the town centre, late at night inspiring fear in the general public was sufficiently serious to merit a 12 month custodial sentence. These are offences that the court will sentence severely if convicted.

Affray: s3 Public Order Act 1986

Defined as using or threatening unlawful violence towards another such that a person of reasonable firmness present at the scene would fear for his personal safety. Maximum sentence at the crown court 3 years imprisonment and unlimited fine.

This offence is usually tried summarily unless there are the presence of the following factors:

  • the violence was organised.
  • significant injury to victims
  • the offence was racially aggravated
  • violence towards people called to the scene policemen or ambulance men

An affray in a restaurant that involved customers and waiters with chair legs being used as weapons attracted a sentence of 2 years imprisonment, this was subsequently reduced to 9 months on appeal.

The sentence for offences of affray can be substantially reduced if a timely plea is entered and good character can be distinguished, involvement to help another and short duration of incident etc. Defences of self defence, defence of another, attempt to prevent the commission of a crime can all be raised to defend the charge.

The difficulty defending these offences is that there is often CCTV evidence, the prosecution witnesses are usually police officers, whom are experienced in giving evidence, and an incident can be provoked instantaneously.

Threatening Behaviour: Fear or Provocation of Violence: S4 Public Order Act 1986

Offence triable only by magistrates, maximum sentence 6 months and a fine; this is the most common and often charged public order offence. In law a person is guilty if with intent to cause a person harassment, alarm or distress, if he uses threatening abusive words or behaviour thereby causing that or any other person harassment alarm or distress. The racially aggravated form of the offence can be punished in the crown court and attracts a custodial sentence of up to 2 years.

The interpretation of threatening, abusive and insulting are matters that require skilful argument. We have argued that words that amounted to being merely annoying were short of the offence and should be dismissed. Defences exist if we can argue that the violence or threats used were justified in law by way of self defence or prevention of a crime.

These offences are so common due to the heavy handed policing of our town centres and the hostile climate that can exist in these areas.

Harassment, Alarm or Distress: S5 Public Order Act 1986

This offence a police favourite designed to control those shouting abuse and rowdy behaviour, people causing a disturbance and being anti social. Being cynical but practical if you are stopped by the police and they want to arrest you but cannot think of a relevant offence then this is the easiest matter to arrest and charge you with.

The offence is defined as using threatening abusive or insulting words or behaviour or disorderly behaviour within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment alarm or distress thereby. This is the most common form of public order offence. Usually when a person has lost their temper with a police officer and told them to ‘fuck off’.

The maximum sentence is a fine or conditional discharge or both. This offence is used with great frequency and is widely interpreted by the magistrates.

We have successfully defended many of these matters arguing that:

  • A client had no reason to believe that a person would be caused harassment, alarm or distress by the words used.
  • That he was inside a dwelling, and that his conduct was reasonable. This is to be proved objectively.

Our view on this offence is that often a persons behaviour has been reasonable and proper, but for the aggression and hostility of the police, which provokes the situation, and leads to a person losing their temper and using language that results in charge. It’s petty but painful. If you need to discuss this type of offence give us a call for a confidential chat about tactics and the options that are open to you.

The offence can be racially aggravated, and is prosecuted by different statute.

Football Offences, Football Banning Orders

This is an area of the law few solicitors specialise or have an interest in. We have expertise in this area, because we play and follow football. We understand the emotions and passion that the game generates. We also believe that the football stadium is a venue where passion and feelings should be vented and that this forum should be a place where you can ‘let off steam’ as this is part of the tradition of the game and the culture of our football grounds.

Post Hillsborough, successive governments have introduced legislation to tackle perceived ‘football hooliganism’ briefly these include:

  • The Football Offences act 1991, which prohibits the throwing of missiles, or the chanting of indecent or racialist language.
  • The Football Spectators Act 1989, allows the court to restrict an offender convicted of a football related offence from attending matches at home and abroad and requires him to attend at his local police station.

The most draconian and cruelly used sentence for football related offending is the making of Football Banning Orders whereby a person must have been convicted of an offence connected with a football match, committed 24 hours before or after the match, while entering or leaving the ground.

The court must make a banning order if they are satisfied that there are reasonable grounds to believe that making the order would help prevent violence or disorder at football matches. We have the expertise and experience to argue and persuade the court not to make such orders. The order if made can be made in addition to any sentence imposed by the court. The order is for a minimum period of 1 year, maximum 3 years. If you attempt to attend a football league, or European, or UEFA cup match then the order is deemed breached and can be punished by a fine and up to 6 months imprisonment.

When, and if the order is made a person must go to the police station and be photographed within a relevant time period. After a year of the running of the order we can apply to the court that made the order for the ban to be lifted. This requires skilful persuasion and we suggest you contact us to discuss the tactics and arguments to be raised on a person’s behalf. Such matters need to be considered include the behaviour since the order was made, his character, the nature of the offence and all the wider circumstances of the case. This should be done properly with thought and skill, as to fail means a further application cannot be made for a further 6 months.

We are football people. We know the pain a banning order can cause and the cost of season tickets that are lost by the making of the order. We also know of the arbitary nature that people are treated by stewards and police officers at football matches.

Offensive Weapons

It is an offence to have without lawful authority or reasonable excuse an offensive weapon in any public place. Maximum sentence magistrates 6 months, on indictment in the crown court 2 years. Due to the prevalence of knife crime the sentencing aspect of offences for possession of offensive weapons is increasing. It is not a recognised defence in law to arm oneself with a weapon for your own protection. The courts define a ‘public place’ very widely this will include keeping a knife or baseball bat in the footwell of a car, even if this was kept for the protection of the driver.

‘Offensive weapons’ are defined as those made for use to cause injury i.e. those that are offensive per se and those carried with the intention of causing injury to a person. The evidential burden of proving reasonable excuse rests on the defendant. Such arguements can be used to state that a knife was ceremonial, or a tool of a trade. This offence will be punished severely and will often attract custodial sentences.

Offences relating to Firearms

This is an evolving area of law, currently under statutory reform, if you are charged with any of these offences, contact us immediately.