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Charged with a Public Order Offence – Legal Defences & Consequences

by | Apr 12, 2024 | Articles, Crime

In UK criminal law, Public Order Offences stand as a significant segment, encompassing a wide range of behaviours that impinge upon the peace and safety of the public. The ramifications of being charged with a public order offence can be far-reaching, necessitating a comprehensive understanding of the law, potential defences, and the ensuing consequences. In this blog post, we shall delve into the intricacies of public order offences, shedding light on their legal framework, possible defences, notable examples, and sentencing guidelines.

Legal Framework for Public Order Offences

The vast majority of Public Order Offences are contained within the Public Order Act 1986. This legislation comprehensively addresses acts that may disrupt public peace, encompassing offences such as riot, violent disorder, affray, and causing harassment, alarm, or distress. Moreover, Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 pertains specifically to offences of disorderly conduct or using threatening, abusive, or insulting words or behaviour with intent to cause harassment, alarm, or distress.

Charged with a Public Order Offence: Understanding the Implications

When an individual finds themselves charged with a public order offence, it signifies an alleged transgression against the peace and tranquillity of modern society. Such charges are typically brought forth by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) following an incident where the actions, words or long-term conduct of the accused is said to have breached the established norms of public conduct. Upon being charged, the accused is obligated to navigate the ensuing legal proceedings with diligence and prudence, as the consequences can be significant.

Types of Public Order Offences

Public order offences encompass a wide array of behaviours that disrupt peace and tranquillity. Here are a few examples that shed light on the breadth of conduct covered by these offences:

Affray: Contained within Section 3 Public Order Act 1986 and occurs when an individual uses or threatens unlawful violence towards another person or persons, causing them to fear for their personal safety. This offence often arises in the context of physical altercations or brawls in public spaces, such as bars, streets, or sporting events. This offence can result in a prison sentence of up to 3 years.

Riot: Contained within Section 1 Public Order Act 1986 involves the participation of twelve or more individuals in violent conduct, causing or threatening damage to property, or posing an immediate risk to the safety of others. Riots often occur in the context of civil unrest or mass gatherings where tensions escalate and lead to widespread disorder. This offence can result in a prison sentence of up to 10 years.

Harassment, Alarm, or Distress: This offence is contained within Section 5 Public Order Act 1986 and the offence is committed if a person uses threatening words or behaviour within the hearing of another person. Examples may include persistent verbal harassment, aggressive following, or engaging in intimidating behaviour towards others.


Potential Defences for Public Order Offences

When facing a charge for public order offences, individuals may raise various potential defences to challenge the allegations made against them however, this will depend upon the specific circumstances of each case. Some potential defences may include:

Self-Defence: If the accused can demonstrate that their actions were necessary to defend themselves or others from imminent harm or violence, they may have a valid defence against charges of affray or violent disorder. However, their conduct must be reasonable and appropriate based on the circumstances.

Reasonable Excuse: Individuals may argue that their actions were justified by a reasonable excuse, such as acting in the performance of their lawful duties or exercising their right to protest peacefully.

Mistaken Identity: In cases where the identification of the accused is in question, they may assert that they were not involved in the alleged conduct whatsoever or that they have been mistakenly identified as the perpetrator.

Freedom of Expression: Where the alleged conduct involves expressive speech or conduct protected under the right to freedom of expression, individuals may invoke this principle as a potential defence against charges of using threatening, abusive, or insulting words or behaviour.

Consent: In certain circumstances, consent may serve as a defence against charges of affray or violent disorder, particularly in cases where individuals engage in consensual activities that may appear violent or disorderly.

It is important to note that the viability of these defences may vary depending on the specific circumstances of each case. Individuals facing charges for public order offences should seek expert legal advice to assess their options and mount a viable defence.


Examples and Consequences of Public Order Offences

To understand the variety of ways in which a person could potentially be charged with a public order offence, consider the following examples:

Public Disturbance Example: Fred, in the midst of a heated argument with a passerby, resorts to using profane language and engaging in aggressive behaviour, causing nearby individuals to feel alarmed and distressed. He could find himself charged and appearing before the Magistrates Court, if he is convicted he would receive a criminal record which could have long-term repercussions for his career.

Street Brawl Example: Jane becomes embroiled in a physical altercation with another individual during a protest, leading to a tumultuous scene and the intervention of law enforcement authorities.

Consequences stemming from a conviction for a public order offence can be severe, ranging from fines and community orders to imprisonment, contingent upon the gravity of the offence and the individual circumstances surrounding it. Sentencing guidelines vary depending on the specific offence and will take into account factors such as the level of harm caused, the defendant’s culpability, and any mitigating or aggravating circumstances present.

In conclusion, being charged with a public order offence in the United Kingdom results in significant legal ramifications, necessitating a thorough understanding of the law, available defences, and potential consequences. Individuals facing such charges must diligently navigate the legal process.

Do you require legal advice &/or representation?

If you are facing a criminal offence prosecution and require expert legal representation at Court, call our lawyers on 0330 818 9843 or complete our Contact Form.

Charged with a Publice Order Offence, Public Order Act 1986, legal defences, sentencing, punishment, UK law, law firm, legal advice

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