Old Bailey Solicitors

Public Order Act Offences: Affray Focus Case Study

Public Order Act Offences: Affray Focus Case Study


The Public Order Act 1986 is the key piece of legislation that deals with offences relating to public safety and order. There is a plethora of offences under the act which aim to penalise the use of violence and/or intimidation by groups and individuals. Oftentimes, the commission of public order offences are precursors to, or form part of other offences committed. It is therefore, always key to not just look at public order offences in isolation and to seek expert legal advice from specialist public order solicitors if you are charged with or under investigation for any public order offence.

Old Bailey Solicitors have a wealth of experience in representing clients facing public order offences. We will work tirelessly to ensure that the best possible outcome is achieved in your case. This may be looking at avoiding a custodial sentence, or whether it is appropriate to offer a plea to a lesser offence within the act. Whatever the circumstances you find yourself in, our team of diligent and experienced criminal solicitors are on hand to provide you with clear-cut and non-judgmental advice.

What is an Affray?

One of the most commonly charged offences within the Public Order Act is affray.

Affray is defined under Section 3 of the Public Order Act 1986 as the ‘use or threat of unlawful violence towards another in a public place which is such that causes a person of reasonable firmness to fear for their safety’.

You may note from the definition of the offence that the person the threat or use of unlawful violence is towards does not themselves have to fear for their safety. Rather, the law asks whether a ‘hypothetical bystander’ of ‘reasonable firmness’ (i.e. not the most hardy person, but not the most easily scared person- something in the middle) would fear for their safety in these circumstances.

Affray often occurs where people get drunk and fights break out outside of bars and clubs. It may be that no physical violence is actually used, rather words are exchanged which threaten it. It may also be the case that multiple persons are involved in an affray. If this is the case, it is the combined conduct of the persons taken together which the ‘hypothetical bystander’ test is applied to.

Case Study

Old Bailey Solicitors have considerable experience in dealing with public order offences, and have a fantastic track record of obtaining positive results for our clients.

One recent success related to an affray which was also charged with possession of an offensive weapon. Our experienced team secured an acquittal for this client following trial asserting self-defence as the reason for our client acting in the way he did.

Our client was accused of brandishing a piece of wood towards another person in the street outside his home. The prosecution had alleged that our client had threatened unlawful violence towards a passer-by and that this conduct would have caused a person of reasonable firmness to fear for their safety.

The strong case we built for our client accepted that our client had brandished the piece of wood and had done so by threatening to beat up the complainant with it. Given he had stepped onto the pavement, beyond the boundaries of his front garden, this was classified as a public place.

However, our team of diligent and thorough solicitors explored why this had occurred. By calling neighbours as witnesses and seeking out local CCTV from Ring Doorbells, we built a strong case which was put to the jury to show our client was acting in self-defence to protect himself and his family, including his young daughter who was inside the family home.

Our enquiries uncovered that a short while earlier, the complainant had been banging on our client’s door and threatening his family over a noise complaint. This was backed-up by CCTV footage from our client’s Ring Doorbell and a neighbour’s account. Our client’s case was that the complainant had flashed a knife in the waistband of his trousers towards our client.

This evidence was supported by a successful bad-character application to put to the jury that the complainant had a propensity to himself carry knifes and had previous convictions for similar offences.

Our team built a strong defence to show that our client was acting in self-defence when the complainant returned to the front of our client’s property. Whilst it was accepted that our client threatened to beat the complainant with the wood, the jury found that our client did so in lawful and reasonable self-defence. As a result of the hard-work and thorough case building, Old Bailey Solicitors was able to secure an acquittal for a client facing a serious criminal offence, which was the outcome the client deserved.

Whilst this specific case related to a series of events in which a client acted in self-defence, Public Order offences come in many shapes and forms. If physical violence is used against another person, rather than just threatened, you may find yourself under investigation or charged with an Offence Against the Person. If you would like more information about the different levels of assault and how they can be committed, please see our blogs on common assault, ABH and GBH, by clicking the links.

Closing Remarks

Public Order offences carry a range of sentences from fines to imprisonment. In many cases, the difference between achieving a sentence at the lower end of severity or a custodial sentence can be incredibly thin. It is essential to have our expert legal team onboard to support you through every step of your case. We have a vast array of experience in handling sensitive and difficult cases relating to affray and public order offence and are on hand to help you achieve the best possible outcome for you.

If you would like more information about how we can help, please feel free to get in touch with us on 0207 846 4999 for a free no-obligation chat about how we can help.

Matt Bishop headshot

Matt Bishop

Trainee Solicitor

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