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PUBLIC ORDER ACT 1986

UK Public General Acts

Version 06/04/2017

1986 CHAPTER 64

Default Geographical Extent: E+W


  • Part I (E+W+S). New Offences
  • Part II (E+W+S). Processions and Assemblies
  • Part III (E+W+S). Racial Hatred
    • Meaning of “racial hatred” (E+W+S)
    • Acts intended or likely to stir up racial hatred (E+W+S)
    • Racially inflammatory material (E+W+S)
    • Supplementary provisions (E+W+S)
  • Part 3A. Hatred against persons on religious grounds [F45 or grounds of sexual orientation]
    • Meaning of “religious hatred” [F46 and “hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation”]
    • Acts intended to stir up religious hatred [F48 or hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation]
    • Inflammatory material
    • Supplementary provisions
  • Part IV
  • Part V (E+W+S+N.I.). Miscellaneous and General
  • Version 06/04/2017
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  • Version 01/02/1991

Introductory Text

Public Order Act 1986

1986 CHAPTER 64

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; to control public processions and assemblies; to control the stirring up of racial hatred; to provide for the exclusion of certain offenders from sporting events; to create a new offence relating to the contamination of or interference with goods; to confer power to direct certain trespassers to leave land; to amend section 7 of the Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act 1875, section 1 of the Prevention of Crime Act 1953, Part V of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 1980 and the Sporting Events (Control of Alcohol etc.) Act 1985; to repeal certain obsolete or unnecessary enactments; and for connected purposes.

[7th November 1986]

Be it enacted by the Queen’s most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows:—

Annotations:

Commencement Information

I1 Act wholly in force at 1.4.1987 by s. 41(1) and S.I. 1987/198


Part I (E+W+S)
New Offences



1 Riot.

(1) Where 12 or more persons who are present together use or threaten unlawful violence for a common purpose and the conduct of them (taken together) is such as would cause a person of reasonable firmness present at the scene to fear for his personal safety, each of the persons using unlawful violence for the common purpose is guilty of riot.

(2) It is immaterial whether or not the 12 or more use or threaten unlawful violence simultaneously.

(3) The common purpose may be inferred from conduct.

(4) No person of reasonable firmness need actually be, or be likely to be, present at the scene.

(5) Riot may be committed in private as well as in public places.

(6) A person guilty of riot is liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years or a fine or both.

2 Violent disorder.

(1) Where 3 or more persons who are present together use or threaten unlawful violence and the conduct of them (taken together) is such as would cause a person of reasonable firmness present at the scene to fear for his personal safety, each of the persons using or threatening unlawful violence is guilty of violent disorder.

(2) It is immaterial whether or not the 3 or more use or threaten unlawful violence simultaneously.

(3) No person of reasonable firmness need actually be, or be likely to be, present at the scene.

(4) Violent disorder may be committed in private as well as in public places.

(5) A person guilty of violent disorder is liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 5 years or a fine or both, or on summary conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months or a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum or both.

3 Affray.

(1) A person is guilty of affray if he uses or threatens unlawful violence towards another and his conduct is such as would cause a person of reasonable firmness present at the scene to fear for his personal safety.

(2) Where 2 or more persons use or threaten the unlawful violence, it is the conduct of them taken together that must be considered for the purposes of subsection (1).

(3) For the purposes of this section a threat cannot be made by the use of words alone.

(4) No person of reasonable firmness need actually be, or be likely to be, present at the scene.

(5) Affray may be committed in private as well as in public places.

(6) F1 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

(7) A person guilty of affray is liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 years or a fine or both, or on summary conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months or a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum or both.

Annotations:

Amendments (Textual)

F1 S. 3(6) repealed (1.1.2006) by Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (c. 15), ss. 111, 174(2), 178(8), Sch. 7 para. 26(2), Sch 17 Pt. 2; S.I. 2005/3495, art. 2(m)(u)(xxvi)


4 Fear or provocation of violence.

(1) A person is guilty of an offence if he—

(a) uses towards another person threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or
(b) distributes or displays to another person any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting,
with intent to cause that person to believe that immediate unlawful violence will be used against him or another by any person, or to provoke the immediate use of unlawful violence by that person or another, or whereby that person is likely to believe that such violence will be used or it is likely that such violence will be provoked.
(2) An offence under this section may be committed in a public or a private place, except that no offence is committed where the words or behaviour are used, or the writing, sign or other visible representation is distributed or displayed, by a person inside a dwelling and the other person is also inside that or another dwelling.

(3) F2 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

(4) A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable on summary conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months or a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale or both.

Annotations:

Amendments (Textual)

F2 S. 4(3) repealed (1.1.2006) by Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (c. 15), ss. 111, 174(2), 178(8), Sch. 7 para. 26(3), Sch 17 Pt. 2; S.I. 2005/3495, art. 2(m)(u)(xxvi)


[F3 4A Intentional harassment, alarm or distress.

(1) A person is guilty of an offence if, with intent to cause a person harassment, alarm or distress, he—

(a) uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or
(b) displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting,
thereby causing that or another person harassment, alarm or distress.
(2) An offence under this section may be committed in a public or a private place, except that no offence is committed where the words or behaviour are used, or the writing, sign or other visible representation is displayed, by a person inside a dwelling and the person who is harassed, alarmed or distressed is also inside that or another dwelling.

(3) It is a defence for the accused to prove—

(a) that he was inside a dwelling and had no reason to believe that the words or behaviour used, or the writing, sign or other visible representation displayed, would be heard or seen by a person outside that or any other dwelling, or
(b) that his conduct was reasonable.
(4) F4 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

(5) A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable on summary conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months or a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale or both.]

Annotations:

Amendments (Textual)

F3 S. 4A inserted (3.2.1995) by 1994 c. 33, s. 154; S.I. 1995/127, art. 2, Sch. 1

F4 S. 4A(4) repealed (1.1.2006) by Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (c. 15), ss. 111, 174(2), 178(8), Sch. 7 para. 26(4), Sch 17 Pt. 2; S.I. 2005/3495, art. 2(m)(u)(xxvi)


5 Harassment, alarm or distress.

(1) A person is guilty of an offence if he—

(a) uses threatening [F5 or abusive] words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or
(b) displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening [F5 or abusive] ,
within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby.
(2) An offence under this section may be committed in a public or a private place, except that no offence is committed where the words or behaviour are used, or the writing, sign or other visible representation is displayed, by a person inside a dwelling and the other person is also inside that or another dwelling.

(3) It is a defence for the accused to prove—

(a) that he had no reason to believe that there was any person within hearing or sight who was likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress, or
(b) that he was inside a dwelling and had no reason to believe that the words or behaviour used, or the writing, sign or other visible representation displayed, would be heard or seen by a person outside that or any other dwelling, or
(c) that his conduct was reasonable.
(4) F6 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

(5) F6 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

(6) A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale.

Annotations:

Amendments (Textual)

F5 Words in s. 5(1) substituted (1.2.2014) by Crime and Courts Act 2013 (c. 22), ss. 57(2), 61(2); S.I. 2013/2981, art. 3

F6 S. 5(4)(5) repealed (1.1.2006) by Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (c. 15), ss. 111, 174(2), 178(8), Sch. 7 para. 26(5), Sch 17 Pt. 2; S.I. 2005/3495, art. 2(m)(u)(xxvi)


6 Mental element: miscellaneous.

(1) A person is guilty of riot only if he intends to use violence or is aware that his conduct may be violent.

(2) A person is guilty of violent disorder or affray only if he intends to use or threaten violence or is aware that his conduct may be violent or threaten violence.

(3) A person is guilty of an offence under section 4 only if he intends his words or behaviour, or the writing, sign or other visible representation, to be threatening, abusive or insulting, or is aware that it may be threatening, abusive or insulting.

(4) A person is guilty of an offence under section 5 only if he intends his words or behaviour, or the writing, sign or other visible representation, to be threatening [F7 or abusive] , or is aware that it may be threatening [F7 or abusive] or (as the case may be) he intends his behaviour to be or is aware that it may be disorderly.

(5) For the purposes of this section a person whose awareness is impaired by intoxication shall be taken to be aware of that of which he would be aware if not intoxicated, unless he shows either that his intoxication was not self-induced or that it was caused solely by the taking or administration of a substance in the course of medical treatment.

(6) In subsection (5) “intoxication” means any intoxication, whether caused by drink, drugs or other means, or by a combination of means.

(7) Subsections (1) and (2) do not affect the determination for the purposes of riot or violent disorder of the number of persons who use or threaten violence.

Annotations:

Amendments (Textual)

F7 Words in s. 6(4) substituted (1.2.2014) by Crime and Courts Act 2013 (c. 22), ss. 57(3), 61(2); S.I. 2013/2981, art. 3


7 Procedure: miscellaneous.

(1) No prosecution for an offence of riot or incitement to riot may be instituted except by or with the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions.

(2) For the purposes of the rules against charging more than one offence in the same count or information, each of sections 1 to 5 creates one offence.

(3) If on the trial on indictment of a person charged with violent disorder or affray the jury find him not guilty of the offence charged, they may (without prejudice to section 6(3) of the M1 Criminal Law Act 1967) find him guilty of an offence under section 4.

(4) The Crown Court has the same powers and duties in relation to a person who is by virtue of subsection (3) convicted before it of an offence under section 4 as a magistrates’ court would have on convicting him of the offence.

Annotations:

Modifications etc. (not altering text)

C1 S. 7(1) modified (1.10.2008) by Serious Crime Act 2007 (c. 27), ss. 63(1), 94(1), Sch. 6 para. 13 (with Sch. 13 para. 5); S.I. 2008/2504, art. 2(a)

Marginal Citations

M1 1967 c. 58.


8 Interpretation.

In this Part— “dwelling” means any structure or part of a structure occupied as a person’s home or as other living accommodation (whether the occupation is separate or shared with others) but does not include any part not so occupied, and for this purpose “structure” includes a tent, caravan, vehicle, vessel or other temporary or movable structure; “violence” means any violent conduct, so that— (a) except in the context of affray, it includes violent conduct towards property as well as violent conduct towards persons, and (b) it is not restricted to conduct causing or intended to cause injury or damage but includes any other violent conduct (for example, throwing at or towards a person a missile of a kind capable of causing injury which does not hit or falls short).

9 Offences abolished. (E+W+S)

(1) The common law offences of riot, rout, unlawful assembly and affray are abolished.

(2) The offences under the following enactments are abolished—

(a) section 1 of the M2 Tumultuous Petitioning Act 1661 (presentation of petition to monarch or Parliament accompanied by excessive number of persons) ,
(b) section 1 of the M3 Shipping Offences Act 1793 (interference with operation of vessel by persons riotously assembled) ,
(c) section 23 of the M4 Seditious Meetings Act 1817 (prohibition of certain meetings within one mile of Westminster Hall when Parliament sitting) , and
(d) section 5 of the M5 Public Order Act 1936 (conduct conducive to breach of the peace).
Annotations:

Marginal Citations

M2 1661 c. 5.

M3 1793 c. 67.

M4 1817 c. 19.

M5 1936 c. 6.


10 Construction of other instruments.

F8 (1). . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

(2) In Schedule 1 to the M6 Marine Insurance Act 1906 (form and rules for the construction of certain insurance policies) “rioters” in rule 8 and “riot” in rule 10 shall, in the application of the rules to any policy taking effect on or after the coming into force of this section, be construed in accordance with section 1 above unless a different intention appears.

(3) “Riot” and cognate expressions in any enactment in force before the coming into force of this section (other than the enactments mentioned in subsections (1) and (2) above) shall be construed in accordance with section 1 above if they would have been construed in accordance with the common law offence of riot apart from this Part.

(4) Subject to subsections (1) to (3) above and unless a different intention appears, nothing in this Part affects the meaning of “riot” or any cognate expression in any enactment in force, or other instrument taking effect, before the coming into force of this section.

Annotations:

Amendments (Textual)

F8 S. 10(1) omitted (6.4.2017) by virtue of Riot Compensation Act 2016 (c. 8), ss. 10(3)(b), 12(1)(2); S.I. 2017/379, reg. 2

Marginal Citations

M6 1906 c. 41.


Part II (E+W+S)
Processions and Assemblies



11 Advance notice of public processions.

(1) Written notice shall be given in accordance with this section of any proposal to hold a public procession intended—

(a) to demonstrate support for or opposition to the views or actions of any person or body of persons,
(b) to publicise a cause or campaign, or
(c) to mark or commemorate an event,
unless it is not reasonably practicable to give any advance notice of the procession.
(2) Subsection (1) does not apply where the procession is one commonly or customarily held in the police area (or areas) in which it is proposed to be held or is a funeral procession organised by a funeral director acting in the normal course of his business.

(3) The notice must specify the date when it is intended to hold the procession, the time when it is intended to start it, its proposed route, and the name and address of the person (or of one of the persons) proposing to organise it.

(4) Notice must be delivered to a police station—

(a) in the police area in which it is proposed the procession will start, or
(b) where it is proposed the procession will start in Scotland and cross into England, in the first police area in England on the proposed route.
(5) If delivered not less than 6 clear days before the date when the procession is intended to be held, the notice may be delivered by post by the recorded delivery service; but section 7 of the M7 Interpretation Act 1978 (under which a document sent by post is deemed to have been served when posted and to have been delivered in the ordinary course of post) does not apply.

(6) If not delivered in accordance with subsection (5) , the notice must be delivered by hand not less than 6 clear days before the date when the procession is intended to be held or, if that is not reasonably practicable, as soon as delivery is reasonably practicable.

(7) Where a public procession is held, each of the persons organising it is guilty of an offence if—

(a) the requirements of this section as to notice have not been satisfied, or
(b) the date when it is held, the time when it starts, or its route, differs from the date, time or route specified in the notice.
(8) It is a defence for the accused to prove that he did not know of, and neither suspected nor had reason to suspect, the failure to satisfy the requirements or (as the case may be) the difference of date, time or route.

(9) To the extent that an alleged offence turns on a difference of date, time or route, it is a defence for the accused to prove that the difference arose from circumstances beyond his control or from something done with the agreement of a police officer or by his direction.

(10) A person guilty of an offence under subsection (7) is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale.

Annotations:

Marginal Citations

M7 1978 c. 30.