‘Moving the goal posts’ – the CPS’s new stance on tragedy related abuse at football games.

Posted: 31 August 2023

On the 7 August 2023, the Crown Prosecution Service changed their guidelines in respect of how they approach offenders who are found to have been referencing football related tragedies during matches. It is a well-known fact that football chants have been deep rooted in the sport for as long as most can remember. Most chants are harmless and are used as encouragement for players and discouragement for the opposition. However, these chants can infrequently extend to chants of an abusive nature and, reference footballing tragedies such as the Hillsborough or Munich Disasters.


Clamp down on chants

The Crown are attempting to clamp down on these types of chants by announcing that offenders can be dealt for these types of offences by way of either a Section 4a or Section 5 Public Order Offence.

It has been announced that tragedy related abuse during football matches which is to be dealt with in the above way can include any of the following:

  • Abusive Chanting
  • Offensive Signs, Flags or Clothing
  • Any other types of abuse that may cause others harassment, alarm, or distress.

Formally, abusive, or insulting football chants or behaviour have been dealt with by way of various pieces of legislation. Extending the Public Order Act to include abuse related football incidents allow for a streamlined process when making charging decisions on these types of offences.

Public Order S4A & S5 explained

Public Order S4a and S5 related offences are summary only meaning that they will be dealt with in the Magistrates Court. These offences carry a maximum sentence of up to six months imprisonment or a fine, depending on which section of the Public Order Act the Crown charge an individual with.

To be convicted for a Public Order offence, the Crown must prove that an individual behaved in such a way that may cause another person harassment, alarm, or distress. It is not necessary for the Crown to prove that the person felt alarmed or distressed, just that they ‘were likely to be’.

In addition to being convicted for tragedy related abuse, the Courts have the power to make offenders subject to Football Banning Orders.

Football Banning Orders

The Crown can apply on conviction for a Football Banning Order for offenders who are convicted for a relevant offence. These relevant offences include general football hooliganism but extends to public order offences, violent offences and even drug offences which take place at a football match.

The orders, if granted by the Court, will take effect for between 3 and 10 years depending on the severity of the offending.

These orders can have numerous different prohibitions but mainly include:

  • The exclusion from attending any football matches in the UK or abroad.
  • Exclusion zones around stadiums during a specific time.

Breaches of Football Banning Orders carry a maximum sentence of six months imprisonment.

If you have any queries or wish to discuss football related offences in further detail, please contact our Criminal Defence Team on 01473 226577, or you can send an email.

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