Legal terminology can often be confusing, and a case in point is the offence known as affray. The word affray might conjure up images of all-in brawls, but actually you can be up on affray charges without having hurt anyone. You can be charged with affray for carrying out or threatening to carry out unlawful violence, and there doesn’t have to be a large group involved, or a witness to the incident.
Affray falls into the category of public disorder offences. A conviction for affray, along with riot and violent disorder charges, can have harsh penalties – including prison sentences. If you have been charged with a public disorder offence, it is essential that you seek legal advice and representation from a lawyer with experience in defending these types of cases.
What types of behaviour are considered affray?
Any behaviour that is perceived to be unlawfully violent or to be threatening violence can be seen as affray. This can include fighting, shouting, threatening, waving weapons, throwing objects, and anything else that might be perceived as threatening violence. Words alone are not considered to be threatening violence.
For an affray charge to be made, nobody else needs to be physically present at the scene. If your behaviour is considered to be such that would cause a person of ‘reasonable firmness’ to fear for their safety, you can be found guilty of affray.
Affray charges are most commonly used for groups of people who are behaving in a threatening manner towards an individual or another group. In cases where two or more people have been charged over the same incident, the behaviour of the group rather than individuals is considered in court.
Increasingly, affray charges are being used for fights between individuals, even when nobody else is present at the time of the incident.
So what is the maximum sentencing for affray? The maximum jail sentence for an affray charge is 10 years, if the matter is dealt with in the district court. If it is dealt with as a summary offence in the local court, the maximum sentence is a two-year prison term. There are a number of other sentences that can be given for an affray conviction, including good behaviour bonds, community service, fines, section 10 dismissals and conditional release orders.
Are there any defences for an affray charge?
The main defences for a charge of affray include self-defence, duress and necessity. If you can provide evidence to prove that the behaviour was such that a person of ‘reasonable firmness’ present at the scene would not have feared for their safety, this may also help you avoid a conviction.
Getting good legal representation can also help you avoid a severe penalty for an affray conviction. Your lawyer can help you prepare a strong defence, highlight any mitigating factors that might have contributed to the offence, and help you obtain character references and any other useful documentation to prove that you are of good standing in the community.
If you have been charged with a public disorder offence, make sure you get the best possible legal representation from a firm of lawyers with strong track record in defending affray charges. The right defence can help you avoid a harsh penalty and possibly a prison sentence as a result of a conviction for affray.