Public order offences
1 in 7 reported crimes are domestic abuse related.
Get the advice you need to protect yourself, your family, your home, your job.
Public order offences can arise in domestic violence situations, especially when an incident takes place outside of the home. This category of offence often overlaps into other areas such as assault, criminal damage, harassment, stalking, controlling or coercive behaviour, threats to kill and breach of protective order, but they 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 and good advice at an early stage is essential.
Evidence could also help defend an application for a Domestic Abuse Protection Order (DAPO), Restraining Order or Non-Molestation Order.
A mere allegation of a public order offences can be enough to result in arrest or a voluntary interview. For a suspect this can then lead to restrictive bail conditions, a charge and a court case.
For suspects, police investigations and Court hearings can have a dramatic impact on day to day living. Access to the family home and to children is often restricted and any caution or conviction can affect employment as it would remain on the police national computer and may be disclosed on a DBS check.
Public order offences are rarely the only live issue in a domestic incident, it often coincides with allegations of assault, criminal damage, harassment, stalking, controlling or coercive behaviour, threats to kill or breach of protective order.
Key points for suspects
This is a notoriously complicated area of law, we have tried to explain it as simply as possible but there are many pitfalls and crossovers into other offences such as threats to kill, harassment, criminal damage and assault. You also have to consider the public nature of the offence, so even if your partner withdraws their support for a prosecution there may be other witnesses and evidence to support a charge.
Also consider that public order incidents (even unproven) could also provide evidence to support an application for a Domestic Abuse Protection Order (DAPO), Restraining Order or Non-Molestation Order in favour of the victim.
Section 3 of the Public Order Act deals with the offence of Affray. Affray is often alleged in a domestic violence situation, 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. It could include a violent domestic incident between partners, but even where neither party wanted to prosecute each other for an offence, one or both could be prosecuted for Affray. Even then, 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 our 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).
It is easy to see how a domestic violence incident could become a threatening behaviour charge. 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 domestic violence arguments and confrontations that occur outside the home. Offences could easily include domestic situations 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.
Good legal advice is essential at an early stage.