Public order offences

Introduction

The law on public order offences is mainly set down in the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994. It deals with how people behave in public places, for example, being drunk in a public place, and also provides for crowd control at public events. Under the law, a ‘public place’ includes roads, public parks or recreational areas, cemeteries, churchyards, trains, buses and other public transport vehicles.

If a Garda suspects you have committed a public order offence under this Act, you must give them your name and address if you are asked for them. In fact, it is an offence if you fail to give your name and address in this situation, and you can be arrested without warrant for this.

The Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 2003 provides that, if you are convicted of certain offences under the 1994 Act, you can be excluded from a premises for up to a year. This is in addition to the penalty under the 1994 Act.

Rules

Intoxication (being drunk) in a public place

It is a public order offence to be drunk in a public place. If a Garda suspects that you are intoxicated in a public place they can take the intoxicating substance away from you.

The penalty for being intoxicated in a public place is either:

  • A fixed charge fine of €100, or
  • The maximum class E fine of €500, if the Gardaí decide to prosecute you for the offence, and you are convicted

Disorderly conduct in a public place

It is an offence to engage in offensive conduct in a public place:

  • Between the hours of midnight and 7am, or
  • At any time, if a Garda has asked you to stop

Offensive conduct is unreasonable behaviour which is likely to cause serious offence or serious annoyance to other people. This public order offence aims to deal with disorderly behaviour which falls short of threatening behaviour but could still adversely affect the quality of people’s lives. For example, people shouting late at night after leaving a nightclub where this would cause serious annoyance to local residents.

The penalty for this offence is either:

  • A fixed charge fine of €140 , or
  • The maximum class D fine if the Gardaí decide to prosecute you for the offence, and you are convicted

You must give your name and address to the Garda, if you want this offence treated as a fixed charge offence. If you don’t give your name and address, you can be arrested without warrant for this and convicted of a summary offence for which the maximum penalty is a class C fine.

Threatening, abusive or insulting behaviour in a public place

It is an offence to use threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour in a public place with the intention of breaching the peace. For example, if your words or actions are likely to cause a fight with the person you are insulting, or a group of youths is looking for trouble because of their threatening behaviour towards other people. If you are found guilty of this offence you can be liable to class D fine and to a prison sentence of up to 3 months.

Begging in an intimidating or threatening manner

Begging in an aggressive, intimidating or threatening manner is a public order offence. A person found guilty of this offence is liable on summary conviction to a class E fine or up to one month in prison, or both. The Gardaí can direct people begging in certain areas to leave that area, for example, people begging at an ATM, a night safe, a vending machine or a shop entrance. If the person does not follow the request to move they can be charged with an offence and get a class E fine on summary conviction.

It is also an offence to organise or direct someone else to beg. On summary conviction for this offence you are liable to a class A fine, or up to 12 months in prison, or both.

Distributing or displaying threatening, abusive, insulting or obscene material in a public place

Distributing or displaying offensive material in a public place is a public order offence. The penalty for this offence is a class D fine, or a prison sentence of up to 3 months, or both.

The main difficulty with this offence is that something that is obscene to one person might be quite normal to another person. The European Court of Human Rights has dealt with the issue of sensitivity in the case of Muller v. Switzerland (1991) 13 E.H.R.R.. This case considered a conviction in Switzerland against Mr Muller for displaying obscene paintings. The paintings depicted, in a crude manner, sexual relations between men and animals. The court held that the paintings were liable or likely to grossly offend the sense of sexual propriety of persons of ordinary sensitivity. It can therefore be said that the courts will apply the “ordinary man” test when deciding if the distribution or display of material is obscene or not.

Failure to comply with the direction of a member of An Garda Síochána

It is an offence if you do not comply with a Garda’s request to stop behaving in a way that they believe is endangering people’s safety, property or the public peace. If you are behaving in this way, the Garda can also ask you to “move on” to avert any potential trouble. This means that they do not have to apply the full force of criminal law by arresting you, charging you and bringing you before the courts.

It is an offence to not follow these Garda directions, unless you have a reasonable excuse or lawful authority to do so. Any person convicted of failing to comply with a Garda direction in this way, is liable on summary conviction to a class D fine, or to a maximum term of 6 months in prison, or both.

Wilful obstruction

It is an offence to deliberately prevent or interrupt a person or vehicle from passing freely in a public place, unless you have the legal authority or a reasonable excuse to do this. The penalty for this offence is a fine of up to €400. This offence was created in order to protect the constitutional rights of the individual to pass on a public highway. While the Gardaí have no power to arrest for this offence, they can direct the person to stop the obstruction. Failure to comply with that direction is an offence.

Entering a building with intent to commit an offence

It is an offence to enter a building or the vicinity of a building with the intention of committing an offence or interfering with property. Under the definition of this offence, it is enough to be on the property, for example, in the back garden or the driveway of a house. But, in any proceedings against the accused, it is up to the prosecution to prove that the accused was there with the intention of committing an offence or interfering with property. If you are found guilty of this offence you will be liable on summary conviction to a class C fine, or to a maximum term in prison of 6 months, or both.

Trespass

It is an offence to trespass in a way that is likely to cause fear in another person. This offence does not include any intent to commit a crime or to interfere with property. A person found guilty of this offence is liable on summary conviction to a Class C fine, or to a maximum term of imprisonment of 12 month, or both.

A Garda can direct anyone they find trespassing in a way that causes, or is likely to cause fear in another person, to stop acting in that way and to immediately leave the area in a peaceable and orderly manner. If the person fails to comply with this direction they are guilty of an offence, unless they have a reasonable excuse or lawful authority not to comply. If you are found guilty of this offence you are liable to a class D fine, or to a maximum term in prison of 6 months, or both.

Riot

Riot is one of the major and most serious public order offences. It is defined as when 12 or more people are together at one place and use, or threaten to use unlawful violence for a common purpose, and their conduct would cause someone of reasonable firmness who was present at that place to fear for their or someone else’s safety. So anyone using unlawful violence for the common purpose in this way is guilty of the offence of riot.

The important parts of this offence are:

  • That at least 12 people must use or threaten to use violence
  • They must have a common purpose in doing so
  • Their conduct would cause a reasonable observer to fear for their safety or the safety of some other person
  • The accused used unlawful violence

This offence can be committed in a public or private place. The offence of riot can be used by the Gardaí in situations where large groups of people assemble in protest and the protest turns into unlawful violence. The maximum penalty for the offence of riot is an unlimited fine, a period of imprisonment for up to 10 years, or both.

Violent disorder

Violent disorder is a public order offence which is similar to the offence of riot. However, it is a lesser version of that offence.

Violent disorder is when 3 or more people are together at a place, and they use, or threaten to use violence, and their conduct would cause someone of reasonable firmness, who was present at that place to fear for their or someone else’s safety.

For the offence of riot the accused person must have used violence, whereas for violent disorder the accused person only needs to threaten to use violence. For the offence of violent disorder the group do not have to share a common purpose, whereas this is a requirement for riot. The maximum penalty for violent disorder is an unlimited fine, or a period of imprisonment for up to 10 years, or both.

Affray

Affray is when two or more people use or threaten to use unlawful violence towards each other, and their conduct would cause someone of reasonable firmness who was present at that place to fear for their or someone else’s safety.

The violence involved in affray must be between the two or more people involved and not directed towards innocent by-standers. For example, affray would be where a group of people are fighting against each other in the street. Affray can take place in a public or private place. The offence of affray is only committed when actual unlawful violence is used. Threats alone do not constitute the offence of affray. A person convicted of affray can receive a maximum penalty of an unlimited fine, or a term of imprisonment for up to five years, or both.

Blackmail, extortion and demanding money with menaces

It is an offence for a person to make unwarranted demands with menaces to make personal gains for themselves or another, or with the intention to cause a loss to another. The exception to this offence is if the person making the demand with menaces believes that:

  • They have reasonable grounds for making the demand, and
  • The use of menaces is a proper means of reinforcing the demand

While there is no definition in the Act of “menaces” the courts held that:

“the word menace is to be liberally construed, and not limited to threats of violence but should include threats of any action detrimental to or unpleasant to the person addressed”.

Therefore, the definition of menace would include threats to post details of a person’s sexual life on the internet, or threats to publish explicit photographs of a person. Neither of these actions could be said to be a proper way of enforcing what would otherwise be a legitimate demand for the payment of a debt. If a person is convicted of this offence the maximum punishment is an unlimited fine, or a term of imprisonment of up to 14 years, or both.

Assault with intent to cause bodily harm or commit an indictable offence

The main area of law that deals with assault is the Non-fatal Offences against the Person Act 1997. However, Section 18 of the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994 creates another offence of assault with intent to cause bodily harm or to commit an indictable offence. This offence covers aggravated assaults when someone assaults another person with the intention of causing bodily harm or committing an indictable offence. A person convicted of this offence could face a maximum penalty of an unlimited fine, or a term of imprisonment for up to 5 years, or both.

Assault or obstruction of a peace officer

It is an offence to assault or threaten a peace officer or someone providing medical services at a hospital. Peace officers are:

  • Members of the Garda Síochána
  • Prison officers
  • Members of the fire brigade
  • Ambulance personnel
  • Members of the Defence Forces

This offence covers an assault on:

  • A peace officer who is doing their job, or a person who is providing medical services at a hospital
  • Any person who is assisting a peace officer, or a person providing medical services

It is also an offence to assault these people in order to prevent the lawful arrest or detention of someone for an offence.

The maximum penalty for this offence is an unlimited fine or a term of imprisonment of 7 years, or both.

You are also guilty of this offence if you deliberately obstruct:

  • A peace officer who is doing their job, or a person who is providing medical services at a hospital
  • Any person who is assisting a peace officer, or a person providing medical services

The maximum penalty you could face for this offence is a Class C fine, or a term of imprisonment of 6 months, or both.

Page edited: 9 September 2019