The law can often be difficult to understand, as there may be many different pieces of legislation covering similar areas. One particular area that may be even more challenging to comprehend is the law relating to affray. If you've been charged by the authorities with this offence or are involved in a case surrounding such a situation, what should you understand?
What's at Risk?
There are many different laws covering how individuals should behave in public. The law of affray is not very widely used, but can have serious implications for those who are found guilty of contravening it. For example, penalties can range from fines all the way up to a decade in prison. Charges of affray are being brought against individuals more often these days, even though the offence was originally created to deal with widespread disturbances that endangered the safety of the public.
What's the Definition?
The actual definition of affray is related to a person who "uses or threatens unlawful violence towards another and whose conduct was such that it would cause a person of reasonable firmness who was present at the scene to fear for their safety." From this you would think that there must be a third person present to witnesses the argument between the two people and be afraid for their own well-being. However, this isn't actually the case, as the prosecutors can get a successful conviction if they can prove that a third person would have been concerned for their safety IF they'd been there. It sounds a little tenuous and you can imagine that it gives the prosecutors quite a bit of leeway in pushing forward their case.
What Is Involved in Typical Cases?
It is normally the situation that a charge of affray is brought forward when there has been a physical altercation, rather than just verbal sparring. It's also normally the case that the confrontation needs to be fairly significant in nature in order for the courts to agree that the third person would be worried if they'd been there.
How Can You Defend Yourself?
If you've been charged with affray, you have several courses open to you. You can bring forth a defence that suggests you were under considerable duress at the time or that you may have been afraid for your own safety and were simply exercising self defence. In any case, it's a good idea to get the support of a lawyer who specialises in this area. The prosecutors will bring forward a strong case and you have to discuss a similarly robust defence with your solicitor.