Public Order Offences

Public Order Offences

Public order offences include a wide range of situations. Public Order Offences usually refer to the use of, or threat of violence or harassment towards someone else, in a public place. Crimes related to a public order offence include:

s1 Public Order Act 1986 - Riot
Riot is the most serious offence under the Public Order Act 1986. A riot is defined as twelve or more people acting with 'common purpose' using or threatening violence. They must behave in such a way that the average person would be afraid that violence would be used against them. These cases can only be tried in the crown court, where if convicted one could be given a maximum sentence of 10 years.

s2 Public Order Act 1986 - Violent Disorder
An offence of violent disorder is committed where three or more people present together are accused of causing the same offence as a riot. Violent disorder is viewed very seriously by the courts, cases can be heard in the magistrates court or the crown court although they are usually sent to the crown court where the maximum prison sentence is five years.

s3 Public Order Act 1986 -Affray
Affray involves two or more people using or threatening unlawful violence towards another person and their behaviour is such that an average person present at the scene would have feared for their safety. Affray cases may be heard in the magistrates and crown court, and the maximum sentence is 3 years imprisonment.

s4(1) Public Order Act 1986 - Fear or Provocation of Violence
This offence is caused by the use of threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour (which may include writing or other visible representation) towards another, with the intention of causing them to believe that unlawful violence would be used against them. This offence carries a maximum of 6 months imprisonment or a fine up to £5000. If the offence is racially or religiously aggravated the offence carries a maximum sentence of 6 months imprisonment in the magistrates court, and up to 2 years in the crown court.

s4A Public Order Act 1986 - Harassment, Alarm or Distress with Intent
A person must act in an abusive way towards another using threats or insults and intend to cause harassment, alarm or distress. The maximum sentence is 6 months imprisonment or a fine up to £5000. Offences which are racially or religiously aggravated may attract a sentence of up to 2 years imprisonment in the crown court.

s5 Public Order Act 1986 - Disorderly Behaviour
An offence is committed if a person uses threatening, abusive or insulting words/gestures within hearing distance or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress as a result. A general defence of the behaviour being reasonable in the circumstances may be available to the defendant. This offence carries a maximum penalty of a £1000 fine. Where the offence is racially or religiously aggravated the fine may be increased up to a maximum of £2500.

Drunk and Disorderly Act
Under s91 of the Criminal Justice Act 1967 it is an offence to be drunk and disorderly in a public place.

How can a Solicitor Assist?

The laws concerning public order offences can be complex and you should always take legal advice before answering any questions from the police, and if charged, before you go to court. One would require the assistance of a criminal defence solicitor. At ULA Solicitors we are dedicated to providing clear advice to you in order to ensure that you receive the best possible outcome. This may be to advise at the police station which reduces the chances of you further incriminating yourself, or whether it be the advice of pleading guilty early in order to allow for a 25% reduction in sentence, or getting you an experienced barrister to ensure that you have the best chance if your matter was to proceed to trial. We will always listen to our client's instructions and act in accordance with these and their best interest.


As with other criminal law matters the government provides funding by way of legal aid. This is the same in the instance where the individual is charged in relation to a public order offence. Again, the individual would have to qualify for legal aid on two grounds. Firstly, their disposable income must be below a certain amount; secondly, it must be in the interests of justice that they be represented. With such offences, as they carry lengthy custodial sentences the individual would most definitely satisfy the latter criterion.

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