Violent disorder- section 2 Public Order Act 1986
Violent disorder is an offence contrary to section 2 of the Public Order Act 1986. Convictions for Violent Disorder appear to have been decreasing. The last available statistics show that in 2016 some 340 people were sentenced for the offence, a reduction from 480 in 2006. Although it is notable that this statistic only shows the number of people successfully convicted by the CPS, not the total number charged.
In this article Public Order Offences lawyer Quentin Hunt looks at the offence of Violent Disorder and examines what has to be proven by the prosecution and how such cases can be successfully defended.
What is violent disorder?
Violent disorder is an offence under section 2 of the Public Order Act 1986. It contains a number of ‘elements’ that the prosecution must prove in order to be able to convict an individual of such an offence. These are:
- That 3 or more persons are present together
- The unlawful violence is used or threatened
- That the conduct of the persons would ‘cause a person of reasonable firmness present at the scene to fear for his personal safety’
When looking at this it is irrelevant whether or not the 3 or more use or threaten unlawful violence simultaneously (sub section 2) and no person of reasonable firmness need actually be, or be likely to be, present at the scene (subsection 3). Unlike other public order offences, violent disorder may be committed in a private place such as a dwelling, as well as in a public place.
Violent disorder is what lawyers call an ‘either way’ offence meaning that the offence can be tried in either the Magistrates Court or the Crown Court.
What is the legal definition of Violence?
For the purposes of the Public Order Act 1986, “violence” is defined as any violent conduct; it includes conduct towards property as well as conduct towards persons.
It is also of note that the Statute does not restrict the definition to conduct causing or intending to cause injury or damage but includes any other violent conduct. So, for example, if a person swings a baseball bat at someone in a threatening way this could be ‘violent conduct’ even if the swing is not intended to make contact and does not do so.
Violent disorder defences
There are many defences to offences of Violent Disorder. Not all will apply to each case but I will review the most common here.
The first and most common defence is a simple one of factual dispute. Either the defendant does not accept that he/she was actually the person who was said to have committed the offence or they dispute that they actually did what they are said to have done or that they acted violently. Many violent disorder cases rely heavily on the testimony of eyewitnesses. Such testimony can be notoriously unreliable and there can be inconsistencies within a witness’s evidence and inconsistencies between the evidence of different witnesses. This can be easily exploited by an experienced and skilled defence Barrister. For example, I recently defended a case where a number of eyewitnesses gave evidence about the actions of the defendant. Under cross examination I was able to ascertain from each witness exactly what the actions were said to have been and in what order they were delivered. Upon forensic examination of the evidence it was apparent that the versions given by the witnesses were radically different from each other. In submissions at the close of the prosecution case I highlighted these huge inconsistencies to the judge who dismissed the case against my client, entered a Not Guilty verdict and awarded defence costs.
Another defence relates to the subjective element to the offence, meaning that a person is only guilty of violent disorder or affray if they intend to use or threaten violence or are aware that their conduct may be violent or threaten violence. This can often be a successful ground for a defence, however it should be noted that if a person claims that they lack intent due to intoxication whether by drink or drugs then this would not amount to a defence. An example of this defence can be seen in a recent case of mine where a defendant was in dispute with his brother, a police officer, about the inheritance of the family home. The complainant stated that the defendant’s conduct in banging on the door of the property and shouting through the letterbox amounted to a public order offence. I called the defendant to give evidence and he stated that his intention was merely to gain entry to the property to get some urgent post and that his actions were not intended to threaten violence. The Court accepted my submission on this point and the defendant was acquitted of all charges.
Another defence which is often successfully used is that the conduct of the defendant would not ‘cause a person of reasonable firmness present at the scene to fear for his personal safety’. This is obviously fact specific and will very much depend on what was done.
Finally, if a person is acting in self-defence, reasonable defence of another or is doing no more than necessary to restore the peace then this may be a complete defence. This is due to the fact that the violence must be ‘unlawful’. The three preceding examples are all instances of lawful violence. An example of this was a case I undertook where the defendant was acting as a peacemaker late at night in a branch of McDonalds. One of the aggressors punched him in the face and he instinctively struck back. The prosecution sought to indict all the people involved in the fracas in a public order charge. Once the evidence was outlined in Court and I explained that my client had been acting in self-defence my client was acquitted in short order.
Violent disorder sentencing
Violent disorder carries a maximum period of imprisonment of five years so it is an offence that clearly needs to be taken seriously. The latest statistics show that of those convicted, 69% received an immediate prison sentence with a further 23% receiving a suspended sentence. The offence is subject to guidance from the Sentencing Council by way of Guidelines for the offence. If you are accused of such an offence and are curious as to what your likely sentence would be you should seek specialist legal advice.
If you are accused of or face proceedings for an offence of violent disorder, then you should seek specialist legal representation as soon as possible. Quentin Hunt is a Criminal Defence Barrister who takes instructions directly from members of the public and has a fantastic record in Public Order offence cases. You may contact Quentin for a free, no obligation conversation about your case.