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Afternoon quickie: Riot or not?

The media has used the word "riot" so often over the past few days it would be easy just to accept that as a fact. Casting an eye over the relevant legislation, you find a different story.

(Source)
Section 1 of the Public Order Act 1986 defines a riot, and defines a violent disorder. For those people who have not studies law, an offence is made up of two parts...an action element (Actus reas) and a mental element (Mens Rea). For the offense to be 'complete' each part of the offense must be satisfied. Lets look through the definition of riot, and see if we can put a tick next to each element.


s1(a) Where 12 or more persons (tick) who are present together (tick) use or threaten unlawful (tick) violence (tick) for a common purpose (i dont think so...cross) and the conduct of them (taken together) is such as would cause a person of reasonable firmness present at the scene to fear for his personal safety (tick), each of the persons using unlawful violence for the common purpose is guilty of riot.

It could be easy to dismiss this as a irrelevant semantic issue, but it has a huge effect on the clean up. According to the Riot (Damages) Act 1886, residents and businesses can sue the Police Authority for compensation. Of course, the police authority doesn't want that huge extra financial burden during a time when they are having to make massive cuts. The news on the twitosphere is that the PA are saying that this legislation is out of date. Unfortunately that argument will not stand up, as it was last referred to in 2008 after the Yarls Wood riots. During that case, it was taken that the law was still valid, and i suspect that has set a precedent that must be followed.

So if its not a riot, what is it? Section 2(1) defines the offence of Violent Disorder;

Where 3 or more persons (tick) who are present together (tick) use or threaten unlawful (tick) violence (tick) and the conduct of them (taken together) is such as would cause a person of reasonable firmness (tick) present at the scene (tick) to fear for his personal safety (tick), each of the persons using or threatening unlawful violence is guilty of violent disorder.


I have no doubt that i have oversimplified this, as you never predict the outcome of a case. But i hope that the government is going to create a compensation fund to try and get these small businesses and residents back on their feet, something that is essential to our economy, and to our happiness.

NOTE: I have done some research on the test of "common purpose". Insted of using "common purpose" its easier to replace it with "joint enterprise". They mean the same thing, but joint enterprise is how it is laid out in law.

So for the courts to convict under s1 Public Order Act they must show that there is a more than 12 people involved in a joint enterprise. For a joint enterprise to exist there must be some element of forward planning, and it is this point to prove that will be very difficult to pin down.