Public order offences
Public order offences range from minor to very serious.
They can be difficult to understand and often overlap into other criminal offences.
Public order offences often overlap into other areas of law such as assault, harassment, stalking, controlling or coercive behaviour, threats to kill and breach of protective order
Public order offences are separate offences that often encompass words, behaviour and threats that put a victim in fear. However, public order offences are a complicated area of law.
A mere allegation of public order can be enough to result in arrest or a voluntary interview. For a suspect this can lead to restrictive bail conditions, a charge and a court case.
Police investigations and Court hearings can have a dramatic impact on day to day living. Any caution or conviction can affect employment as it would remain on the police national computer and may be disclosed on a DBS check.
Loopholes to consider
In the section below I have outlined this area of law and defences in full.
Loopholes are legitimate lines of defence that take into account all the small areas of law.
Loophole defences that may be appropriate to public order offences may include:
Can you be identified as the person in question?
Was your conduct reasonable in all the circumstances?
Were you just protecting or defending yourself?
Did you need to protect or defend someone else?
Was the other person the aggressor?
Was anybody actually offended or threatened?
How can the prosecution prove any intent by you?
Can it be proved that the behaviour happened in public?
Do you have witnesses to back up your account of events?
Do you have a recording or other evidence to help prove your account of events?
Section 3 of the Public Order Act deals with the offence of Affray. Affray is often alleged in a domestic violence situations, especially as unlike other public order offences it can be charged for an incident that occurs within the home.
It is a serious offence carrying a maximum prison sentence of 3 years. However, proving an Affray isn’t straightforward, it must be proved that a person has used or threatened unlawful violence towards another; and his or her conduct is such as would cause a person of reasonable firmness present at the scene to fear for his/her personal safety.
Words are not enough, the behaviour of the accused must put another person in fear; but it is not relevant that the victim was put in fear, there has to be violence of such a kind that a notional bystander would fear for his or her personal safety.
So, where the violence is focused solely and exclusively on the victim, such that it would be incapable of causing a person of reasonable firmness present at the scene to fear for his or her safety, then the offence of Array would not be proven.
An example of Affray is a fight between two or more people in a place where members of the general public are present. The accused must have intended to use or threaten violence; or have been aware that his conduct may be violent or may threaten violence.
There is an overlap in the conduct required to commit any Public Order offence, however, the Police cannot charge Affray for incidents within a dwelling just because a lesser public order or assault charge is not available.
The only thing that is clear with an Affray is that it is a complicated area of law.
Threatening Behaviour explained
Threatening behaviour is dealt with by Section 4 of the Public Order Act. It is less serious than Affray and the maximum sentence is 6 months in prison. In my view it is something of a “cover all” charge, as it can be used for multitude of situations where they may be insufficient evidence to prove another charge.
The offence is incredibly wordy, it requires:
Threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour towards another person in a public or private place (but not in a dwelling) either:
with intent to cause that person to believe that immediate unlawful violence will be used against him or another by any person
or: with intent to provoke the immediate use of unlawful violence by that person or another
or: whereby that person is likely to believe that such violence will be used
or: it is likely that such violence will be provoked
I warned you it was wordy. If you read it a hundred times it would still make little sense.
Examples of threatening behaviour include threats made towards innocent bystanders, throwing objects where no injury is caused, scuffles or incidents of violence or threats of violence (such as a disturbance in or outside a pub or shop).
The key defence is reasonable conduct. It is for a Court to decide what is reasonable after considering all the relevant circumstances.
Section 4a and Section 5 public order offences explained
To confuse you more there are two more, less serious public order offences. Section 4a and Section 5 of the Public Order Act.
Section 4a requires threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour or disorderly behaviour in a public or private place (but again not within the home) with intent to cause and thereby causing harassment, alarm or distress.
Section 5 required threatening or abusive words or behaviour or disorderly behaviour in a public or private place (but remember, not within the home) with intention or awareness that behaviour may be disorderly; or with intention or awareness that such behaviour may be threatening or abusive, within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress.
The main difference between section 4a and 5 is the need to prove intent for a Section 4a offence, that provides significant wriggle room as without an admission intent isn’t easy to prove.
These lesser offences can cover many arguments and confrontations that occur outside the home where there is swearing or shouting which causes another harassment, alarm or distress. Again, the key defence is reasonable conduct, was the conduct reasonable? Was there intent? That is for the Court to decide.