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Academic Word List: Exercise 36

Read the following text, paying particular attention to the highlighted words.

The Public Order Act

Despite its title, the Public Order Act creates some offences which apply whether the conduct takes place in a public or a private place. Of particular relevance here are those offences which involve violence or the threat of violence. The Act provides a "ladder" of offences, of which the most serious is riot (section 1). The essence of riot is the use of unlawful violence by two or more persons in a group of at least twelve persons who are using or threatening violence. The maximum penalty is ten years' imprisonment, compared with a maximum of five years for the lesser offence of violent disorder. The essence of violent disorder (section 2) is the use or threat of unlawful violence in a group of at least three persons who are using or threatening violence. Beneath violent disorder comes the crime of affray (section 3), now defined in terms of threatening or using unlawful violence towards another, and carrying a maximum of three years' imprisonment. Affray may be committed by one individual, and, like the other offences, it may be committed in a private place. The term "violence" includes conduct intended to cause physical harm and conduct which might cause harm (such as throwing a missile towards someone); and, for the two most serious offences of riot and violent disorder, "violence" bears an extended meaning which includes violent conduct towards property.

Is it necessary to have an extra ladder of offences so closely linked with the general ladder of offences of violence? One reason might be the unsatisfactory state of the law under the Offences against the Person Act 1861: that Act fails to provide both a clear and defensible gradation of offences and any general offences of threatening violence against another. The provisions of the Public Order Act are, however, usually justified on other grounds. One supposed justification is that these extra offences are needed to cope with "group offending", which causes fear in ordinary citizens, and extra difficulties for the police and for prosecutors (in obtaining persuasive evidence). Offences committed by groups may well occasion greater fear than offences committed by individuals, and it may also be true that groups have a tendency to do things which individuals might not do: there is a group bravado, a group pressure, which may lead to excesses. On the other hand, the criminal law already makes some provision for such cases. The law of conspiracy is aimed at group offending, but conviction depends on proof of some prior agreement. The law of complicity enables the conviction of people who aid and abet others to commit offences, and spreads a fairly wide net in doing so.

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