Public Order Offences
Under the Public Order Act 1986 (the Act 1986) statute, public order offences cover riot, affray and certain statutory offences relating to public order, such as the threat of violence or intentional harassment towards an individual or group in a public setting.
While the law relating to public order offences can be complicated, under the Sentencing Council’s guidelines, severe cases can carry ten years imprisonment. You should always seek expert legal advice as soon as possible if you have been arrested for a public order offence, or are in the police station for questioning.
What are public order offences?
According to Act 1986, public order offences are vast and wide-ranging. Usually, they encompass the use of or threat of violence, abuse or harassment towards an individual or group, in a public place.
These offences can range from drunken and disorderly behaviour through to riots, and many illegal acts involving public disorder are often a precursor to, or part of, the commission of other offences.
Crimes related to a public order offence include:
Under S1 Act 1986, a riot is when a group of 12 or more people present together use threatening violence or have the intent to use unlawful violence for a common purpose, that will cause some with reasonable resolve to fear for their safety.
Offenders sentenced for this charge would be tried in a Crown Court and could be given a maximum sentence of 10 years if found guilty.
Under S2 Act 1968, when three or more people use or threaten to use violence that would cause someone of reasonable firmness to be afraid they are committing violent disorder.
Under the Sentencing Council’s guidelines, the maximum sentence given for this offence is five years, with trials taking place at either the Crown Court or magistrates court.
The volume of affray offences tend to be high, and a majority of offenders are tried in the Crown Court.
Under Section 3 Public Order Act 1986, affray is where two or more people use or intend to use threatening behaviour which would cause those present to fear for their safety. Offenders may receive three years imprisonment, a fine or both. On a summary conviction, offenders shall receive no more than six months imprisonment, a fine, or both.
Intentional Harassment, Alarm or Distress
Under S4 Act 1986, a person found guilty of intentional harassment, alarm or distress, which can be demonstrated through abusive or insulting words and behaviour, or visual representation can be charged a maximum sentence of six months.
The majority of offenders are tried in the magistrates’ court, although serious offences can be taken to the Crown Court where a more severe penalty can be given.
If intentional harassment, alarm or distress offences are racially or religiously motivated, offenders can receive a maximum of two years imprisonment.
Under S4 of the Act 1986, intentional harassment, alarm and distress offences can be committed in a public and private setting.
Disorderly behaviour likely to cause Intentional Harassment, Alarm or Distress
Under S5 the Act 1986, a person is deemed guilty of this offence if they use threatening or abusive language, gestures, or showcase disorderly behaviour with the intent to cause harassment, alarm or distress to a person nearby.
The maximum penalty for this offence is a £1000 fine, and a vast majority of offenders are tried in the magistrates’ court.
Sentencing Public Order Offences
The Sentencing Council’s guidelines on public order offences are there to help the court determine the level of involvement an offender had in the crime and the damage or harm caused to any victims.
As public order acts encompass a wide range of incidents, sentences vary depending on the offence and the level of harm caused. Riot acts carry the most severe penalties, while disorderly and threatening behaviour carries the lowest sentence.