Specialist Football Offence Lawyers
At Olliers we understand that people are passionate about football and supporting their team. We know that there are lots of issues that concern fans including sometimes over-zealous stewarding, safe standing areas and seemingly outdated restrictions relating to alcohol.
We are also aware that there are occasions when people can find themselves in difficulty in connection with football matches. Olliers have a long history of representing people who have been arrested in connection with football related matters. We have been involved in some of the most serious cases involving allegations of organised disorder. Olliers also regularly represent people in connection with Public Order Act offences, alcohol and ticketing related matters.
We have created a guide to the sorts of matters for which people sometimes find themselves in difficulty at matches and also the power of the courts to impose Football Banning Orders.
The Football (Offences) Act 1991
The Football (Offences) Act 1991 created a number of offences relating specifically to incidents at football matches. In particular, it prohibits the throwing of missiles, racialist or indecent chanting and going onto the playing pitch or the surrounding area.
This legislation applies to games involving either a national side or at least one team from the Premier League, the Football League, the Conference or the League of Wales. It is specified that the Act relates to things done at a ground within a period beginning two hours before the start of a match and ending an hour after the game has finished.
Throwing of missiles
It is a specific offence for someone to throw anything towards the playing area or the area adjacent to it without lawful authority or excuse. It is also an offence to throw anything towards any area in which spectators or other people are or may be present. The Act makes it clear that this offence involves throwing of any item and does not set out a specific list of items which cannot be thrown.
Indecent or racialist chanting
The Act specifically prevents chanting of this nature. Racialist is defined as including something which is threatening, abusive or insulting to a person as a result of their colour, race, nationality, or their ethnic or national origins. Chanting includes acting alone or with others and is defined as the repeated uttering of any words or sounds. Anyone chanting in this way cannot be deemed to be acting with lawful authority.
Going onto the playing area
It is an offence for someone to enter the playing area at a match. This prohibition also extends to the area adjacent to the pitch to which spectators are not usually admitted. In this instance the Act does make it clear that offence is not made out if a person can prove that they were acting with lawful authority or indeed lawful excuse.
Football Stadium Offence Sentencing
Cases prosecuted under this Act must be dealt with in a Magistrates’ Court. The maximum sentence that the Court can impose for an offence under the Football (Offences) Act 1991 is a fine of up to £1000. Of course when imposing any sort of financial penalty, the Court must have regard to a person’s financial circumstances.
Each of the offences set out above are offences for which the court must make a Football Banning Order if satisfied that there are reasonable grounds to believe that it would help to prevent violence or disorder at football matches.
Public Order Act Offences
Many football related arrests come under the Public Order Act. This encompasses a wide variety of anti-social behaviour, such as swearing, shouting, intimidating other supporters and violence.
Section 5 Public Order Act Offences
An offence under Section 5 is committed if a person causes another to feel ‘harassment, alarm or distress’, either by virtue of their words and behaviour or by displaying a sign or visible representation . This can be something as simple as swearing in the presence of other members of the public , or by presenting banners with content that may cause others concerns. It is easy to see how this offence could be committed within the context of a football match without the perpetrator having any appreciation that their behaviour constitutes a criminal offence. Of course, it does not have to take place at a game, and could be as simple as someone displaying a sign anywhere in public that causes offence.
The Courts are limited as regards sentence when dealing with this offence, and a person guilty under section 5 Public Order Act can only receive a fine or a conditional discharge, which essentially means that no punishment is passed pending a period of time during which no further offences are committed. The Courts can, however, still consider the imposition off a Football Banning Order upon anyone convicted of this offence in the context of football.
Section 4A Public Order Act Offences
Essentially, a s5 but ‘with intent’. A person guilty of this offence must use threatening or abusive words, or display a sign containing such, with intent to cause another to feel harassment, alarm or distress. Intent is the key to this offence, and a person guilty of it can receive anything from a financial penalty up to 26 weeks imprisonment. As with all football related offences, the Courts can, and in all likelihood will also consider the imposition of a Football Banning Order.
Section 4 Public Order Act Offences
The conduct required for a person to be charged with an offence under this section is generally more serious than those detailed above, and requires there to be not only threatening, abusive or insulting behaviour, but behaviour specifically towards another, which is intended to cause that other person to believe that violence is to be used against them, or to provoke someone to use violence against them. Intent is not a pre-requisite for this offence, however, as it is enough if it is simply likely that violence will be used, or that a person would reasonably believe that violence was to be used against them.
Despite this being viewed as a slightly more serious offence, the sentencing range is the same as for a 4A, ie, anything from a fine to custody, and a potential Football Banning Order.
All of the above offences can only be dealt with in the Magistrates’ Court, unless, in the case of the latter, two, a person is charged with the racially aggravated form of the offence, in which case they can proceed to the Crown Court and the sentencing range increase from those detailed above.
Affray is a much more serious offence under Section 3 of the Public Order Act which can be dealt with in the Magistrates’ Court or the Crown Court. To be guilty of this offence a person must use or threaten unlawful violence towards another and his conduct was such that a reasonable person present at the scene would fear for his or her safety. There is no requirement to prove that there was someone present, other than the victim, who was in such fear, simply that had a ‘reasonable’ person been there, they would have felt fearful of violence being used against them. Words are not sufficient to justify a charge or conviction under this section; neither is the use or threat of unlawful violence towards another. The accused must also intend to use or threaten such violence and also be aware that, in doing so, others could be concerned.
This in an offence which can attract up to three years’ imprisonment in the Crown Court, or 26 weeks in the Magistrates’ Court, and, of course a Football Banning Order, if the criteria for such is met.
Alcohol related offences
The Sporting Event (Control of Alcohol etc) Act 1985 created a number of offences relating to alcohol at football matches. The act also prohibited fireworks at games.
Although the legislation referred to sporting events in reality it is aimed at people attending football matches. In particular it relates to games involving national sides and also at least one club that is from the premier league, the football league, the Conference or welsh premier league. It also covers all FA cup matches regardless of the teams playing other than preliminary or qualifying round games.
Offences in connection with alcohol on trains and coaches
The act creates a number of offences in connection with alcohol being transported to and from football matches. Anyone who has alcohol in their possession whilst travelling on a coach or train that is principally being used to take people to or from a match is guilty of an offence. There are provisions relating to the operators and also those who hire vehicles. It is also an offence to be drunk on such a vehicle whether or not the person is in possession of alcohol.
Alcohol at football games
It is an offence to enter or try to enter a ground whilst in possession of alcohol. The provisions also apply to drinks containers that are capable of causing injury to someone if they are struck with it. Anyone who is drunk at a football match or whilst trying to enter the ground is also guilty of an offence. Additionally there are restrictions that mean that it can be an offence to be in possession of alcohol in areas of ground in which the match may be seen.
Fireworks at football games
The act makes it an offence to be in possession of a firework and other articles whilst either entering the ground or being inside the ground. Fireworks, flares and other items that emit smoke or physical gas are specifically referred to together with other objects. It is a defence for a person to prove that they had the item with lawful authority.
Alcohol Football Sentencing
The offences created by The Sporting Event (Control of Alcohol etc) Act 1985 are all ones that can only be dealt with in the Magistrates Court. Whilst some of the offences are punishable by way of a maximum penalty of a fine, other offences under this act are punishable by way of up to 3 months imprisonment. These offences are also matters for which the Court must consider making a Football Banning Order if satisfied that there are reasonable grounds to believe that it would help to prevent violence or disorder at football matches.
If you are arrested or charged with an offence under this Act it is essential that you seek legal advice as soon as possible. Steps may need to be taken to preserve evidence such as CCTV footage and witnesses may need to be spoken to. At Olliers we have many years of experience in defending cases of this kind. We can offer you robust advice in connection with your case and excellent representation.
A Football Banning Order is a civil order, often imposed following a conviction for a football related offence. They are designed to prevent hooliganism in football, and act as a deterrent for avid football fans against becoming involved in any acts of disorder. Where violence is involved an Order ‘must’ always be made, and for lesser offences, an Order must be made if the Court is satisfied that it would assist in preventing future acts of football related violence or disorder.
Football Banning Orders cannot be made by the police when out of Court disposals are used to resolve a case. For this reason, many cases which, in any other context would be eligible for a caution, end up before the Courts.
Football Banning Orders can also be applied for even if a person is not convicted of any criminal offence. An acquittal after trial, for example, therefore, does not guarantee that an application for an Order will not still be made, and granted.
Football Banning Orders can only be applied for where an offence is ‘football related’. This is not to say that the act has to take place within a football ground or amongst spectators watching a match elsewhere. Offences can often take place on public transport or at locations some distance away from a football ground. It is, however, necessary for the Crown to demonstrate that the behaviour was, in some way, football related, and for this they can rely upon tickets, fanzines, programmes, football paraphernalia and the wearing of football strips, to name but a few. An offence can also take place within 24 hours either side of a match and still be deemed as ‘football related’.
A Football Banning Order can last anywhere between two and ten years, and the duration of the Order is largely dependent upon the conduct alleged, whether a conviction was forthcoming and, if so, the sentence passed.
If the Crown seeks a Banning Order where there is no conviction, providing that the Court is satisfied that the appropriate criteria is met, an Order of between two and three years can be imposed.
Where there is no period of immediate imprisonment an Order for a period of three to five years can be imposed, and where an immediate custodial sentence is given, an Order must last for a minimum of six years to a maximum of ten years.
The terms of a Football Banning Orders are applied for on a case by case basis, taking into consideration the circumstances of the offence and the context in which it was committed.
It is the norm, however, for there to be a condition precluding a person from attending football matches either at home or abroad for the duration of the Order. Further conditions include:
In addition to barring a person from football matches themselves, a Football Banning Order can preclude a person from going to specific areas, such as public houses, or within specified distances of a match, for a period of from two hours before to two hours after any match. They can also forbid someone to travel on public transport unless approved beforehand by the British Transport Police.
Even if an offence was not committed within the context of an international match, the Courts must order that a person surrenders his or her passport to their local police station during a ‘control period’, i.e. from five days before any international tournament until its conclusion. Clearly this is a massive restriction on a person’s liberty as it impacts upon non-football related travel, including business and holidays.
Furthermore, it is the norm for anyone made the subject of a Football Banning Order to sign on at their local police station within five days of the Order being made. A condition can also be imposed for a person to report to their local police station during control periods.
It is possible to make an application to the court to terminate a Football Banning Order early.
Section 14H of the Football Spectators Act 1989 allows such application to be made after two thirds of the order has had effect. The court will consider various factors in deciding whether to grant such application or not including the person’s character, his conduct since the banning order was made, the nature of the offence or conduct which led to it and any other circumstances which appear to the court to be relevant. If you are considering making such application, please contact us for further advice.
If you face an allegation arising out of a football related matter Olliers specialist football offence solicitors may very well be able to assist you. Whether you are due to attend the police station, have already been interviewed by the police or are to appear in court we can provide robust advice and first class representation.
Olliers have offices in Manchester and London and we can be contacted at any time. Olliers do not deal with football related offences on a legally aided basis.
Need help? Olliers are specialist Football Banning Order lawyers (London & Manchester)
You can contact our specialist football offence team by completing the enquiry form below, telephoning 020 38836790 (London) or 0161 8341515 (Manchester) or you can email firstname.lastname@example.org.