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.
S5 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.
S4A 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.
S4 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.