It’s just a bit of banter…or is it?

In this article, Steven Ramsell, Solicitor Advocate and Associate, discusses the Public Order Act 1986 and the difficulties people can find themselves in with it.

You may not think that a bit of banter between mates would be the sort of thing to end up in Court, but there are a number of ways in which you could be prosecuted if it goes too far. What surprises many people is the fact that the various offences contained within the Public Order Act 1986 can actually be committed “in private”.

Perhaps the most common of all Public Order offences is ‘disorderly conduct’ under Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986. This can be committed quite easily and you may have witnessed it yourself in a town centre at the weekend. Calling someone an unpleasant name, for example, would often be enough to make out this offence.

Criminal Solicitor: Steve Ramsell

If you’re on a night out with your mates and one of your group is getting a little loud and persistently drops the F-bomb in conversation, it could be an offence under this Section. Your mate has potentially just used an abusive word within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress. Even if the person he’s talking to is not bothered by it, there could be someone nearby that is caused distress. For this type of offence, you can be fined and receive a conviction.

If someone used words with the intention of causing someone harassment, alarm or distress, they could commit an offence under Section 4A of the Public Order Act 1986. More seriously, if that someone has an intention to cause another person to believe that violence is about to be used against them, they could commit an offence under Section 4 of the Public Order Act 1986. Offences contrary to Section 4 and Section 4A would not only result in convictions but you could be sentenced to up to 6 months in prison.

So what about when you’re in private? All of the above laws contain little known subsections that also make it an offence to use threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour in a private place. Recent cases have reinforced this. In particular, places such as student halls of residence, communal areas of shared accommodation, offices and places of work would all be caught by within that definition. That said, these offences cannot be committed if you and the other person are inside a house.

Confused? You should be. These offences are complex and have been the subject of legal challenges over many years. Only with years of experience in the legal profession could you be expected to properly understand the Public Order Act 1986. That’s why it’s important to have expert legal advice from a Criminal Defence lawyer at Bhatia Best if you find yourself being arrested, appearing at court or going for ‘a chat’ with the Police. You can contact us 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Representation at the Police Station is always free and for Court representation we can discuss an application for Legal Aid or offer competitive fixed-fees. Please call today on 0333 016 3333.