My son was arrested at the Sunderland air show – he was told to leave by a police officer and then a few minutes later he was arrested. He’s now been charged to go to court. What is this all about?
It sounds very much like your son was arrested for an offence of failing to comply with a direction to leave a locality contrary to section 35 of the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014. For the police to use these dispersal powers a Senior Officer must first designate the area and the time frame where they will have effect. The officer must have reasonable grounds for suspecting that the powers will reduce the likelihood of members of the public experiencing harassment, alarm or distress or the commission of crime and disorder. In designating a locality as being subject to these powers the Senior Officer must also have regard to the European Convention on Human Rights.
Once the powers are in place a constable in uniform can direct a person to leave a particular area if he believes that the person has contributed to or is likely to contribute to causing harassment, alarm or distress or crime or disorder. There are a number of requirements upon the officer to ensure the direction is valid. Most notably the direction must be in writing unless that is not reasonably practicable and it must specify the area to which it relates. The officer must also specify that failure to comply is an offence.
Somewhat surprisingly the court can impose an immediate custodial sentence of 3 months where a defendant is convicted of an offence of this type. Much would depend on the circumstances both of the offence and the offender including whether they had any previous convictions. It is difficult to advise in the absence of more information and you do not specify whether your son accepts he received the direction and failed to leave as the police allege. However I would certainly advise that your son should consult a solicitor as soon as possible. Legal Aid may be available for him in this matter.
In general terms it is a defence to have a reasonable excuse for failing to comply with a direction to leave. In addition if for any reason the police had failed to comply with the formalities either of designating the relevant area or of issuing the direction to leave this could mean that your son has a defence.
Please note that this advice was correct at the time of writing. However there may have been changes in the law or procedure since that date. If you are in doubt you should obtain up to date legal advice.