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Public Order Act 1986
United Kingdom Parliament
Long title: An Act to abolish the common law offences of riot, rout, unlawful assembly and affray and certain statutory offences relating to public order; to create new offences relating to public order.
Statute book chapter: 1986 c. 64
Introduced by: Douglas Hurd
Territorial extent: England and Wales; Scotland; Northern Ireland
Royal Assent: 7 November 1986
Commencement: 1 April 1987
Other legislation
Amendments: Football Spectators Act 1989, Broadcasting Act 1990, Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006, Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008
Status: Substantially amended
Text of statute as originally enacted

The Public Order Act 1986 creates offences commonly used by United Kingdom police to deal with public disorder and violence, replacing similar common law offences and the Public Order Act 1936.

Part 1 - New offences

Section 1 - Riot
Section 2 - Violent Disorder
Section 3 - Affray
Section 4 - Fear or provocation of violence
Section 4A - Intentional harassment, alarm or distress
added by section 154 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994
Section 5 - Harassment, alarm or distress

Part 2 - Processions and assemblies

Section 11 - Advance notice of public processions 
requires at least 6 clear days' written notice to be given to the police before most public processions, including details of the intended time and route, and giving the name and address of at least person proposing to organise it; creates offences for the organisers of a procession if they do not give sufficient notice, or if the procession diverges from the notified time or route
Section 12 - Imposing conditions on public processions 
provides police the power to impose conditions on processions "to prevent serious public disorder, serious criminal damage or serious disruption to the life of the community"
Section 13 - Prohibiting public processions 
Chief Police Officer has the power to ban public processions up to three months by applying to local authority for a banning order which needs subsequent confirmation from the Home Secretary.
Section 14 - Imposing conditions on public assemblies 
provides police the power to impose conditions on assemblies "to prevent serious public disorder, serious criminal damage or serious disruption to the life of the community", but the conditions are limited to the specifying of:
  • the number of people who may take part,
  • the location of the assembly, and
  • its maximum duration.
Section 14A -Prohibiting trespassory assemblies 
added by section 70 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, to control "raves"

Section 16 - Public Assembly - Means an assembly of 20 or more persons in a public place which is wholly or partly open to the air.

Parts 3 and 3A- Racial hatred etc.

Part 3 of the Act creates offences of use of words or behaviour or display of written material (section 18), publishing or distributing written material (section 19), public performance of a play (section 20), distributing, showing or playing a recording (section 21), or broadcasting (section 22), if the act is intended to stir up racial hatred, or possession of racially inflammatory material (section 23).

Part 3A was created by the Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006 with the insertion of new sections 29A to 29N. This part created new offences for acts intended to stir up religious hatred. Sections 29B to 29N are to be further amended by the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 when the relevant parts of that act come into force. These further amendments will extend Part 3A to cover intent to stir up hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation (to be defined in new section 29AB).

The Act and Article 11 of ECHR

The Act should be considered in connection with Article 11 of European Convention on Human Rights, which grants people the rights of (peaceful) assembly and freedom of association with others.

Misuse of section 14

The Police have been accused of misusing the powers in section 14 on several occasions. During the 2009 G-20 London summit protests journalists were forced to leave the protests by police who threatened them with arrest.[1][2][3]

See also

External links


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