Since November 2010, police officers have had the power to issue infringement notices for public nuisance, public urination, obstruction of a police officer (in relation to the public nuisance or public urination offence), and contravening requirements of a police officer (in relation to stating correct name and address regard the above). The public nuisance offence is created by section 6 of the Summary Offences Act 2005, which states:
A person commits a public nuisance offence if the person behaves in;
• a disorderly way; or
• an offensive way; or
• a threatening way; or
• a violent way; and
the person’s behaviour interferes, or is likely to interfere, with the peaceful passage through, or enjoyment of, a public place by a member of the public.
The object of this section is to ensure that members of the public may lawfully use and pass through public places without interference from acts of nuisance committed by others. It restricts our personal freedoms to a degree, however this ensures (at least in theory) that the public can enjoy public places without fear of being threatened or assaulted. One complication with the enforcement of this section is that it allows for a lot of police discretion when issuing the offence. This, coupled with the broadness of the section, can cause difficulties especially if the police have been overzealous in the issuing of the offence.
If you have been charged with a public nuisance offence, you may be wondering what is going to happen from here? If it’s your first offence and the nuisance is of a relatively low level, you may be issued with an infringement notice. Essentially, this is an on the spot fine and you may not need to attend court if you pay it by the due date. However, if you have been subject to repeat offences or if the nuisance is of a more serious nature (such as fighting in a licensed venue) you may be required to attend Court.
If you are found guilty at Court the penalties for public nuisance can include fines, community service, suspended sentences, and even up to 6 months imprisonment.
It is always a good idea to get legal advice if you are unsure about your situation. Our criminal law team are experts in this area and can advise you on the best course of action, the likely outcome and even representation at court.