Section 4A Public Order Act

Section 4A Public Order, Intentional Harassment Alarm or Distress

Section 4A of the Public Order Act 1986, also known as intentional harassment, alarm or distress, is one of the more common offences in the criminal courts.

If you are accused of an offence under section 4A, the Prosecution must prove that:

  • You have intended to cause another person harassment, alarm, or distress,
  • You have used threatening, abusive, or insulting words or behaviour, and
  • Your actions have caused another person to feel harassed, alarmed, or distressed

It is also possible to commit this offence if you place a sign or other writing (such as graffiti) that contains abusive language where it can be seen by the public.

The section 4A offence is a summary only offence. This means that it can only be heard by the Magistrates Court. The maximum sentence is 6 months imprisonment, but many cases are dealt with by the use of Community Orders.

There are cases where the alleged abusive words or behaviour have been defended on the grounds of free speech. In these situations, the Court has to determine whether the alleged conduct was reasonable, or whether it went beyond legitimate protest.

It is important not to confuse this offence with offences of harassment. In cases brought under the Protection from Harassment Act, it is necessary for the Prosecution to show a course of conduct by the offender rather than a single instance.

If you are accused of an offence under section 4A, it is important that you have expert advice from a specialist criminal defence lawyer. Contact us to see if we can help you find an experienced solicitor or barrister for your case.