Threatening behaviour

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Andy008 | 20:25 Thu 27th Oct 2005 | How it Works
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In English Law what constitutes threatening behaviour? (not in a racial context)


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(Posted in 2 parts):

'Threatening behaviour' is covered by Section 4 of the Public Order Act, 1986. The following is taken from 12.html

"Section 4 � Fear or Provocation of Violence

A person is guilty if he either

a) uses towards another person threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or
b) distributes to another person any writing or sign which is threatening, abusive or insulting

and either

i) he intends to cause that person to believe that immediate unlawful violence will be used against him or another by any person or to provoke such immediate violence, or
ii) it is likely that the person will believe that such violence will be used against him, or it is likely that such violence will be provoked."

(Continued below)
(Continuation of quoted material):

"Notes on Threatening Behaviour:
There is no legal definition as to what is meant by �threatening, abusive or insulting� and it will be up to the magistrates to decide in each particular case. However, words or behaviour have to be directed towards an actual human target who is affected by them. And they cannot be held to be threatening etc. simply because someone finds them offensive or rude.

As with Sections 1-3, the offence can be committed in public and private places, except where both the accused and the victim are in a dwelling.

No-one need actually believe that immediate violence will be used against them or actually be provoked. It is enough that the accused intends to cause such a belief or to provoke violence, or that this is the likely outcome.
The violence must be immediate - ie likely to occur within a relatively short time span.

As intent is usually difficult to prove, the prosecution will be more likely to rely on the second limb namely that the provocation of violence or fear of violence is �likely� � that is, probable. This test is therefore objective and you can be convicted even if you did not intend to provoke or cause fear of violence, so long as the court decides that this was in fact the likely consequence of your behaviour.

The prosecution must prove that you intended the words etc. to be threatening, abusive or insulting or were aware that they might be."

Hoping this helps,

Question Author
Thanks. I would assume that like most crimes a conviction would rely on solid evidence? i.e. if threats were made in the course of a phone call, then evidence would only exist if the call was recorded, or someone else had listened in?
Any criminal conviction ought to be dependent on the ability of the prosecution to prove their case 'beyond all reasonable doubt'. In practice, if a weeping but articulate, frail-looking, middle-class woman stands in the witness box and swears that the big, inarticulate, tattoo-covered, working-class man in the dock threatened her, then many magistrates (and nearly all juries) would ignore the total absence of supporting evidence (or even the presence of contrary evidence) and convict the defendant.

So, the theory is that 'solid evidence' (or, at least, a large amount of circumstantial evidence) is required for a conviction. The 'system', however, sometimes works outside of the theory.

Also, the threatening behaviour provisions of Section 4 of the Act are normally only used where there is a threat of immediate violence. If the threat is made by telephone it's more likely that Section 4A or 5 would be used. Please see the link I provided above for further information.

What about threats on open forums like Facebook or My Space? I have been informed that the law tends to steer clear of such places.
I recently failed in a libel case as it happened on a forum.

Any advice?

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