The Public Order Act 1986 (POA 1986) does not constitute a codification of public order law even narrowly conceived. It leaves untouched significant areas such as the common law relating to breach of the peace and has in any event been supplemented by numerous provisions since. Essentially the Act constituted a partial revision and updating of the common law offences of riot, affray and unlawful assembly, and the creation of two new offences of causing fear of violence and of creating harassment, alarm or distress (POA 1986, Pt I). It also revised the law relating to racial hatred (Pt III) and extended police powers to impose conditions on and ban assemblies, requiring for the first time that notice of a wide range of public gatherings be given to the police (Pt II).
Although the division is somewhat artificial because there is an obvious overlap with harassment and hate crimes, we have deferred consideration of offences against the person until the next Section. One of our themes in both this Section and the next is the fluidity in definitions of ‘public order’ and ‘personal violence’. A purely situational or contextual approach would mean looking at all the relevant law in relation to say football, or to environmental protest, in separate sections. But this would mean absurd amounts of overlap since most criminal laws are drafted in general terms.