Public Order Offences

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Public Order Act Offences

Public order offences relate to offences that occur in the public sphere. Situations can range from a large scale public riot to a fight between two individuals in the street, from an altercation with a police officer to your rights in a demonstration or protest.

There are numerous offences under the Public Order Act and other legislation, and where you may need help.

  • Riot
  • Affray
  • Section 4
  • Section 4A
  • Section 5
  • Assaulting a Police Officer
  • Assaulting an emergency worker

Public order offences will often occur in fast paced situations with numerous witnesses present. They will often be captured on camera, whether on CCTV or by bystanders present at the scene.

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Public Order Specialists at Hodge Jones & Allen

Specialist legal Knowledge

These cases require specialist knowledge of the various Public Act laws and the powers of the police in these situations. Often, there will be a legal argument about whether the police exercised those powers lawfully.

Analysis of the Prosecution Case

Public orders cases call for a forensic approach to evidence. Witnesses will rarely have identical recollections of the same event. We will focus on tease out inconsistencies in prosecution evidence by our careful analysis.

Analysis or scrutiny of CCTV or video footage is often key to a successful defence. On some occasions, we can show that it presents an incomplete picture, on other occasions we can show how to interpret the CCTV to assist the defence.

We can review paperwork held by the prosecution and which the police may not have followed up (often called the unused material). This can point to material that may be helpful to the Defence.

Building up the Defence Case

Additionally, HJA Lawyers conduct their own investigations, conducting site visits to the scene, taking witness statements or tracing unknown members of the public that may have seen something which was helpful to your case. We never forget often you will be the most important person in the trial and will spend the time and effort to make sure you get our case across.

Featured Client Cases

Featured Case

Conspiracy to commit violent disorder

Hodge Jones & Allen represented three defendants among 20 accused of conspiracy to commit violent disorder. It was alleged that this group were connected to ANTIFA, an anti-fascist group and had beaten up two neo-nazis who were returning from a far right event. Following careful analysis and explanation of the CCTV in the case, the jury acquitted all the defendants that Hodge Jones & Allen acted for.

Featured Case

London Riots

Hodge Jones & Allen acted for a large number of defendants during the London Riots including many difficult cases which attracted media attention. In one case, a group broke into a top end restaurant, holding diners at knife point and robbing them of jewellery. Staff had hidden in the basement and much of the incident was caught on CCTV. Movements were tracked using cellsite evidence and mobile phone analysis. Following a clear strategy meant that our client’s role was acknowledge to be limited ensuring that he received a low sentence following a guilty plea.

Why Hodge Jones & Allen?

Hodge Jones & Allen has a dedicated team of lawyers that specialise in this area. They are experts in the law, and know how to spot weaknesses in the prosecution case and build up your defence. We know that a conviction for public order can be serious and have wide reaching consequences. A conviction can affect your reputation. Some convictions can lead to further orders or proceedings such as a Football Banning Order and eviction from your home.

This is why we are committed to keeping cases out of Court where possible, making sure cases are charged at the appropriate level and preparing our client’s cases in a meticulous and robust way.

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Public Order Act Offences Questions and Answers

Frequently asked questions

What is a section 5 Offence?

A person commits this offence if they use threatening or abusive words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening or abusive, within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby. For this offence it does not matter whether the person intended to cause harassment, alarm or distress.

It is a defence to a section 5 offence to show that the conduct was reasonable.

The maximum sentence for this offence is a fine, even if it is considered to be ‘racially aggravated’.

What is a section 4A offence?

A person commits this offence if, with intent to cause a person harassment, alarm or distress, he uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting, causing that or another person harassment, alarm or distress.

The circumstances of this offence are the same as a section 5 offence with the additional requirement that the prosecution must also prove that the person intended to cause harassment, alarm or distress and that the person or another was in fact caused harassment, alarm or distress.
It is a defence to a section 5 offence to show that the conduct was reasonable.

This offence is punishable by a maximum of six months imprisonment unless it is ‘racially aggravated’ in which case the maximum sentence is two years imprisonment.

What is a section 4 Offence?

The circumstances of this offence are the same as a section 5 offence expect the prosecution must prove one of the following:

  1. That the person intended to cause the other person to believe that immediate unlawful violence will be used against him or another person by any person, or;
  2. That person intended to provoke the immediate use of unlawful violence by that person or another, or;
  3. That the other person is likely to believe that such violence will be used, or;
  4. That it is likely that such violence will be provoked.

This offence is punishable by a maximum of six months imprisonment unless it is ‘racially aggravated’ in which case the maximum sentence is two years imprisonment.

What is an affray?

A person is guilty of affray if he uses or threatens unlawful violence towards another and his conduct is such as would cause a person of reasonable firmness (an average person) present at the scene to fear for his personal safety. For this offence a threat cannot be made by the use of words alone.

Where two or more persons use or threaten the unlawful violence, it is the conduct of them taken together that must be considered.

No ‘average person’ need actually be, or be likely to be, present at the scene; it’s about how they would feel if they were at the scene.

Where someone has been assaulted but does not want to support a prosecution or cannot be identified, an offence of affray might be considered as an alternative if there are other witnesses available or the incident was captured on CCTV.

This offence is punishable by a maximum of three years imprisonment.

What is a violent disorder?

The circumstances of this offence are very similar to an affray. There must be three or more people present together who use or threaten unlawful violence although not necessarily at the same time. It is not necessary that the persons present together have a common purpose.

This offence is punishable by a maximum of five years imprisonment.

What is a riot?

The circumstances of this offence are very similar to a violent disorder. The key differences are that there must be 12 or more people present who use or threaten unlawful violence and that they must be acting for a common purpose.

This offence is punishable by a maximum of ten years imprisonment. This charge can only be dealt with in the Crown Court.

What is unlawful violence?

The term unlawful violence is used so that defences such as self-defence can still be relied on. If the violence used or threatened is ‘lawful’ then the offence is not committed.

Can these offences only be committed in public?

The offences under section 5, section 4A and section 4 can be committed in public or in private but not where the person using the behaviour AND the person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress are both inside a dwelling. It will be very important to consider legal arguments about whether the people involved were inside a ‘dwelling’ or not.

The offences of affray, violent disorder and riot can be committed in public or in private.

What happens if I am accused of assaulting a police officer?

Where you are accused of assaulting a police officer there are a number of charges that the Crown Prosecution Service will consider.

Where low level assaults were alleged against police officers the Crown Prosecution Service previously charged the offence of assaulting a constable acting in execution of his duty under section 89 of the Police Act 1996. In order to prove this offence the prosecution first had to prove that at the time of the alleged assault the constable was acting execution of their duty.

The Assault on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018 created an offence to be charged when a common assault or battery is committed against an emergency worker ‘acting in exercise of their functions as an emergency worker’. Emergency workers includes police officers, prison officers, NHS staff and staff in the fire service.

The offence under section 1 of the Assault on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018 is now to be charged instead of the offence under the Police Act 1996. If the prosecution cannot prove that the person assaulted was acting in exercise of their functions a prosecution will not be possible.

Where such offences are charged in relation to police officers, careful consideration will need to be given to whether the police officer was acting in accordance with their duty. This requires an expert understanding of police powers and the limits on these powers. It also requires scrutiny of the prosecution evidence and any eye witness accounts.

The Crown Prosecution Service may also charge with other offences against the person such as common assault, assault occasioning actual bodily harm and causing grievous bodily harm. If these offences are charged the prosecution does not have to prove that the police officer was ‘acting in exercise of their functions as an emergency worker’.

Self-defence can be relied upon in relation to all assault on police officers and other emergency staff. If an individual honestly believes they are being attacked and acts reasonably and proportionately to defend themselves they will not be guilty of an assault.

What is a Football banning order

It is easy to see how allegations of public order offences can easily arise at football matches and other sporting events. Evidence in these cases will need to be handled with caution and attention to detail due to the scale of the situations involved and the use of intelligence and plain clothes officers at matches.

Public order offences committed at football matches, leaving or entering football matches and travelling to or from a football match are all likely to result in an application for a Football Banning Order. Under section 14A of the Football Spectators Act 1989 the court must make a football banning order where an offender has been convicted of a relevant offence and it is satisfied that there are reasonable grounds to believe that making a banning order would help to prevent violence or disorder. Relevant offences include an offence under section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 and offences where violence is used or threatened towards another person or towards property before, after or at the time of a match.

A Football Banning Order requires the offender to report to a police station within five days, may require the offender to surrender his or her passport, and may impose requirements on the offender in relation to any regulated football matches.

These Orders can be opposed. As breach of a Football Banning Order creates a separate offence punishable by up to six months imprisonment it is important that these orders and any proposed restrictions are challenged where appropriate.

Can I be evicted from social housing

The Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 created an automatic ground for possession of secure tenancies and assured tenancies if the tenant, or a person residing in or visiting the tenancy was convicted of certain offences. This means that landlords would have automatic grounds to evict a tenant if the tenant, someone living at the tenancy or visiting the tenancy is convicted of a specified ‘serious offence’ at the tenancy or in the local area, or elsewhere against a neighbour, the landlord or an employee of the landlord.

Included on the list of specified offences are the public order offences of riot, violent disorder and affray. Individuals facing these offences not only face a custodial sentence but may also face being made homeless by the local authority or Housing Association that manages their property. That is why it is so important to explore whether lesser charges may be considered by the prosecution. We will draft detailed arguments in support of out of Court disposals or lesser charges. We will also working closely with our expert Housing Solicitors.

 

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