10th December 2019

Everyone will have seen the reports in the papers about the disorder which followed the boxing match this weekend both in Newcastle City Centre and in London but what can you do if you are caught up in this type of disorder?

First let’s look at some of the possible offences committed; setting aside the presence of weapons or other such obviously illegal items most disturbances on nights out will fall into two clear categories.  Either they will be Assaults or Public Order offences.

Assaults are essentially easy to understand. They involve the unlawful application of force by one person against another. The seriousness of the injury will usually determine the level of the Assault, either Common Assault, Section 47 Offences Against the Person Act 1861 Assault Occasioning Actual Bodily Harm (commonly referred to as ABH), and Section 18 Offences Against the Person Act 1861 Assault Occasioning Grievous Bodily Harm (GBH).  ABH can be dealt with at the Magistrates Court or the Crown Court, whereas Common Assault can only be dealt with at the Magistrates Court and GBH can only be dealt with at the Crown Court. Sentencing will depend on the facts of the specific case but all carry the risk of a prison sentence.

The Public Order offences can often be more confusing; at the lowest end you have a Section 5 Public Order Act 1986 offence which is Disorderly Behavior. This offence is usually found where a person or a group of people shout insults or cause a general disturbance but where there is no threat of violence. It can only be dealt with in the Magistrates Court and is punishable only by a Discharge or a Fine.

You then have Section 4 and Section 4A Public Order Act 1986 offences; these involve the use of Threatening or Abusive Behavior either with the intention to cause harassment, alarm, or distress or to provoke or cause the fear of immediate violence. These offences are more serious and depending on the number of people involved and the threat or use of weapons or missiles (bottles, stones etc.) can attract a custodial prison sentence at their most serious but most will result in either Fines or Community Penalties such as Unpaid Work or a Curfew. However, unless they are racially aggravated they can only be dealt with in the Magistrates Court.

Finally, the last of the common Public Order offences is Affray, Section 3 Public Order Act 1986, this is where a person uses or threatens unlawful violence towards another in such a way that a person of reasonable firmness present at the scene to fear for his personal safety. In order for an Affray to take place it must involve at least two people, it is a serious offence which can be dealt with by either the Magistrates Court or if serious enough the Crown Court and can lead to substantial prison sentences where there is a risk of serious injury. The events in Newcastle on Saturday night would likely constitute an Affray.

If you are involved in any of the above offences, Assaults and Public Order, you may have number of defences but the most common is self defence. If your actions are ‘reasonable and proportionate’ you will have a viable self defence argument to make at Court.

However, self defence is a tricky area and the Police will often not take the decision themselves preferring to charge you with the offence and to let a Court make that decision.  This means that what you do and say at the Police Station could have a massive impact on your future trial and even be the difference between a conviction and an acquittal.  In these cases it is essential that you have a Solicitor with you at the Police Station.

Everyone arrested, or requested to attend for a voluntary interview, in England and Wales is entitled to speak to and be represented by a legal adviser at the Police Station.  This service is provided through Legal Aid regardless of your income level. Ben Hoare Bell LLP have a team of qualified Police Station Representatives and Duty Solicitors who are available to represent you at the Police Station any time of day and night including over the festive period. You only need to ask the Custody Sergeant and the Police will arrange for us to attend.

Blog by Alastair Naismith, Solicitor