Public Order Offences

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DPP Law has a team dedicated to taking action against the police and ensuring that officers have complied with the law. We have made numerous successful claims for wrongful arrest on behalf of clients who have been mistakenly detained for public order offences. Through the examination of the evidence used by the prosecution as well as CCTV, mobile phone footage and witness accounts, we can help you to build a powerful defence.

The term “public order offence” is used to describe acts of violence or intimidation in public and serves as a means for the police to keep the peace. Because an act that amounts to a Public Order Act crime is highly likely to take place on a busy street or other areas of higher footfall, however, this is one of the more difficult areas of law to prosecute.

For example, if 20 people are taking part in acts that could be considered a riot and you pass through that area, you could be wrongly thought to be taking part by the arresting police officer. In cases such as this, seeking assistance from legal experts is the best way to form clear arguments in your defence.

Implications of Public Order Act Crime Accusations

The Public Order Act 1986 covers a sizeable range of offences, all of which are punishable in different ways. A section 4 Public Order Act punishment, which refers to the offence of fear or provocation of violence, for example, may constitute up to 6 months imprisonment or a fine capped at £5,000, or both.

A section 5 Public Order act punishment, relating to harassment or the causing of alarm or distress, on the other hand, can only be a fine of no more than £1,000.

Affray sentencing guidelines – relevant to those accused of fighting or display of force against one or more people, along with the physical threat of violence – state that a person found guilty can be jailed for up to 3 years as a maximum punishment.

Violent disorder sentencing guidelines, on the other hand, refer to the punishment afforded on occasions where three or more people who are present together use or threaten unlawful violence in a manner that would cause a person of reasonable firmness present at the scene to fear for his personal safety.

This can extend to up to 5 years if the case is tried in a Crown Court and up to 6 months if tried at a Magistrate’s Court, as this is considered an either-way offence.

For full information regarding punishments for public order offences, see the Sentencing Council’s guidelines here.

Related Offences

The following offences fall under the legislation of the Public Order Act 1986:

  • Riot
  • Violent disorder
  • Affray
  • Drunk and disorderly behaviour
  • Breach of the peace
  • Fear or provocation of violence
  • Harassment or the causing of alarm or distress
  • Unlawful protest
  • Assaults on emergency workers
  • Inciting racial or religious hatred
  • Racially or religiously aggravated assault
  • Contamination of or interference with goods with intention of causing public alarm or anxiety

Public Order Offences: Frequently Asked Questions

The most commonly asked questions when it comes to public order offences are:

What is a public order offence?

The Crown Prosecution Service defines a public order offence as an act that involves the use of violence and/or intimidation by individuals or groups.

Is A Public Order Offence a Criminal Conviction?

If you are found guilty in a court of law, you will be considered to have a criminal conviction.

What are some examples of public order offences?

Individuals accused of the following are all likely to be detained under the Public Order Act 1986:

  • rioting
  • affray
  • drunk and disorderly behaviour
  • inciting racial or religious hatred
  • assaulting emergency workers

What is the Maximum Sentence For Public Order Offences?

There are various maximum sentences for the different Public Order Offences.

Drunk and Disorderly

A £1,000 fine is the maximum fine for a drunk and disorderly conviction. 


The maximum penalty for rioting is a 10 years custodial sentence and an unlimited fine. 

Violent Disorder?

The maximum penalty for violent disorder is a 5 years custodial sentence and an unlimited fine. 


The maximum affray sentence is a 3 years custodial sentence and an unlimited fine. However, this sentence can be mitigated through the timely entering of a plea, and there are a number of possible defences for an affray charge. 

Threatening Behaviour

The most common public order offence, the maximum sentence for threatening behaviour is a 6 month custodial sentence and a fine. 

Intentional Harassment, Alarm or Distress

The maximum sentence for this crime is a six-month custodial sentence and a fine.

What is the Most Common Form of Public Order Offence?

The most common form of public order offence is threatening behaviour.

What is Section 4 Public Order Offence?

Section 4 of the Public Order act 1986 is applied when there one person has induced fear or provocation of violence upon another. Specifically, a section 4 charge includes threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, and has a maximum custodial penalty of 6 months imprisonment. However, the court can add an additional 18 months if the offence was racially aggravated. 

What Are Section 4a and Section 5 Public Order Offences?

Section 4a and Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 cover harassment, alarm and distress. To be found contrary to these sections, a person: 

  • uses 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.

What is Section 6 Public Order Offence?

A Section 6 charge of the Public Order Act 1986 occurs when there is a suspicion that a suspect has taken part in a riot.

Assistance If You’ve Been Accused of a Public Order Offence

DPP Law can assist you in numerous ways if you are arrested for public order offences.

If you have been wrongly arrested, our solicitors will prepare a strong case against the police and work hard to prove your innocence.

If the prosecution is calling for affray sentencing guidelines to be utilised when you were not part of a group behaving violently, we will present compelling evidence in order to reduce your sentence or see you acquitted.

Whatever your circumstances, contact us today for legal support and representation.

Our criminal defence solicitors can defend you if you have been accused of any of the below criminal offences:

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