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Section 5 Public Order Act

Section 5 Public Order, Disorderly Conduct, Abusive Behaviour

The offence under section 5 of the Public order Act 1986 is one of the less serious public order offences in the English criminal law.

If you are accused of an offence under section 5, the Prosecution must prove that:

  • You have used word or behaviour that were abusive, threatening, or insulting, or
  • Acted in a disorderly way, or
  • Displayed anything that was abusive, insulting, or threatening, and
  • It was likely that a person would be caused harassment, alarm, or distress

There is no need to prove that a person intended to cause alarm or distress by their actions, unlike the section 4A offence.

The section 5 offence is a summary only offence, so it can only be heard in the Magistrates Court. It is also a non-imprisonable offence, which means the maximum penalty that can be imposed is a fine. The Court has no lawful power to impose either a Community Order or prison sentence for this offence.

As section 5 can not carry a prison sentence, it is sometimes difficult to secure Legal Aid to cover the costs of your criminal defence. The Courts take a view that it is not in the interests of justice for a defendant to be represented at public expense unless there is a risk of a custodial sentence. You should discuss with a solicitor whether you could be able to claim Legal Aid, or whether you may have to fund your case privately.

If you are accused of committing a section 5 Public Order Act offence, 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.


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Every case is unique, and everybody’s circumstances are different. If you are dealing with any of the offences discussed on this site, and need independent advice or a second opinion, contact us to see if we can help.