Public Order Act Offences
In recent years, policing has taken an increasingly target driven approach to crime. More and more people are being criminalised by the justice system for, even if their actions do not physically harm a person or property. The Police and Crown Prosecution Service seem to be more focused on high charging and conviction rates than on dealing with disturbances of the peace in a more balanced manner.
It can seem particularly unfair in these types of cases that presence at the scene can seem to implicate a person in the acts of a group, and that words or behaviour alone can result in a person being charged.
We are specialists in matters involving public order allegations, particularly involving riot allegations or other allegations of group violence. We have acted in many cases involving street violence and football related breaches of the peace. We successfully represented the leader of the most serious prison riot in UK history, which took place at Strangeways Prison in 1991
If you or a family member are currently charged with a Public Order Offence, and are worried about what is going to happen, call us on freephone 0808 155 4870 and ask to speak to a criminal solicitor in our London, Manchester, Birmingham or Salford offices.
Any criminal lawyer can claim to have expertise in different types of criminal case. We have included here a case study to give some idea of how we prepare our cases.
Public order offence
Our client was accused under section 4 of the Public Order Act for his alleged involvement in a fight between rival groups of football supporters. CCTV showed him to be at the scene, but cross examination by us of the independent witnesses showed doubt as to whether he was directly involved in any violent behaviour.
Result | Not guilty
The Public Order Act contains most offences involving behaviour which affects order in public places. A brief explanation of each is included below.
Section 1 Public Order Act – Riot
This applies where 12 or more people acting with ‘common purpose’ use or threaten violence. Their behaviour must have the affect that a normally firm person would be afraid. Section 1 Riot must be heard in a Crown Court, with a maximum sentence of 10 years, although the maximum sentence is rare.
Section 2 Public Order Act – Violent Disorder
This is essentially the same offence as riot, except with only 3 or more people involved. It can be heard in the Crown Court or Magistrates Court. The maximum sentence in the Crown Court is 5 years.
Section 3 Public Order Act – Affray
This offence again involves the actions of people causing a theoretical person at the scene (who need not actually be there) to be afraid by the behaviour of the people using or threatening violence. Affray involves a minimum of 2 people.
Affray can be heard in the Magistrates and Crown Courts, and carries a maximum of 3 years imprisonment.
Section 4A Public Order Act – Intentional Harassment, Alarm or Distress
This offence contains two elements.
The person, to be guilty, must intend to cause harassment, alarm or distress to another person and doing so must act in a way which is abusive, threatening or insulting. This includes, words, behaviour, and even written signs or other representations.
The maximum sentence is 6 months imprisonment. The offence can only be heard in the Magistrates Court.
Racially Aggravated Offences
Public order offences are increasingly charged using variations on the original offences which are ‘racially aggravated’
Public Processions and the Right to Protest Sections 11, 12, 13, 14, 14A and 16 of the Public Order Act.
Controversial laws exist regulating the gathering of individuals in large groups in public places. Some of these have faced criticism in recent years, as they give senior police officers sweeping powers in respect of the planning of peaceful protest. This area of law includes the right of police to impose conditions on processions and assemblies, and even prohibit them, ‘to prevent serious public disorder’.
No two cases in criminal law are of course the same, but certain aspects of good defence preparation should be present with a properly experienced solicitor.
As with any allegation involving violence, where someone is charged with acting in a certain way, the defence team must look at whether the evidence supports the prosecution or not. CCTV, contrasting witness statements and what the client says must all be looked at very closely, and weak elements in the prosecution case must be attacked.
Interpretation and Context
Of course, whether someone is acting as part of a group, whether they are acting lawfully, for example in self defence, or whether they are simply at the scene of a disturbance which is not of their making, are all questions which the defence team may look at. A peaceful protest in which a small number start behaving violently should not result in all being guilty of public order offences.
Expertise of the Legal Team
Public Order Offences are unusual in that it is general behaviour and even words which can result in a conviction. And of course, the number of offences and variations in each one means that having lawyers who have a specialisation in this area is an advantage.
In the current political climate, it is becoming easier and easier to become ensnared in an investigation or prosecution for a public order offence. If you or a family member find yourself in this situation and want to talk about it, call us on freephone 0808 155 4870 and ask to speak to a solicitor in our London, Manchester, Birmingham, or Salford offices.