Public Order Offences

Contents:

  • Breach of Peace
  • Sec 5 - Use/Display + Cause Harassment, Alarm or Distress
  • Sec 4a - Use/Display with Intent
  • Sec 4 - Fear or Provocation of Violence
  • Sec 3 - Affray
  • Sec 2 - Violent Disorder
  • Sec 1 - Riot
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Breach of Peace

Common Law -

The "Queen's Peace" is the normal state of society when the country is not at war. A breach of that peace is a common law offence, and can happen anywhere. However it is not a criminal offence and any prosecution is by way of complaint.

The only penalty available is to bind someone over.

R v Howell 

A breach of peace is only present when harm is done or likely to be done to a person or a person's property in thier presence or a person is in fear of harm to themselves or their property in their prescence.

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Sec 5 Public Order Act

A person who uses threatening or abusive words or behaviour or disorderly behaviour or displays any writing, sign, or other visible representation which is threatening or abusive and within the hearing or sight of a person who is likely to be caused harrassment, alarm or distress is guilty of this offence.

This offence can be committed in a public or private place, but no offence is committed where the words or behaviour used are by a person in a dwelling and the other person is in that or another dwelling.

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Defenses to Sec 5

  • The culprit has no reason to believe that anyone likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress could hear or see their activities. 
  • The culprit was in a dwelling and had no reason to believe that they could be seen or heard by anyone outside.
  • The culprit's conduct was reasonable
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Sec 4(a) Public Order Act

It is an offence if, with intent to cause a person harassment, alarm or distress, to use threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour or disorderly behaviour or to display any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting, causing that person or another harassment, alarm or distress.

Defences:

  • Words or conduct or signs displayed in a dwelling without reason to believe they would be seen or heard
  • Behaviour was reasonable
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Sec 4 Public Order Act

Fear or provocation of violence

A person is guilty of this offence if:

He uses towards another person abusive, threatening or insulting words or behaviour or,

Displays to another person any writing, sign, or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting, 

With intent to cause that person to believe that immediate unlawful violence will be used against him or another by any person or,

To provoke the use of immediate unlawful violence by that person or another or where that person is likely to believe that such violence will be used or provoked.

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Sec 3 Public Order Act

Affray

It is an offence to use or threaten violence to another and your conduct is such, at the time, that it would cause a person of reasonable firmness present at the scene would fear for his personal safety.

  • A person of reasonable firmess does not have to be present
  • For the purposes of this offence, a threat cannot be made by the use of words alone
  • This offence can be committed in public or private, including a dwelling
  • A single person can commit this offence
  • If two or more persons are acting together, it is their combined conduct which is taken into account
  • The threat of violence has to be directed towards a person at the scene and cannot be threats to property
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Sec 2 Public Order Act

Violent Disorder

Where 3 or more persons acting together, use or threaten unlawful violence and the conduct of them (taken together) is such that a person of reasonable firmness present at the scene would fear for his personal safety, each of the persons using or threatening unlawful violence is guilty of violent disorder.

  • The use or threats of unlawful violence by persons does not have to occur simultaneously 
  • No person of reasonable firmness need to actually be present at the scene
  • Violent disorder can occur in public or private, including a dwelling
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Sec 1 Public Order Act

Riot

Where 12 or more persons present together use or threaten unlawful violence for a common purpose, and the conduct of them (taken together) is such that it would cause a person of reasonable firmness present at the scene to fear for his personal safety, each of the persons using unlawful violence for common purpose is guilty of riot.

  • The unlawful violence does not have to be used or threatened simultaneously by each of the persons
  • A person of reasonable firmness need not actually be present at the scene
  • Common purpose may be inferred from conduct
  • This offence can occur in public or private.
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