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For the British submarine, see HMS Affray (P421).
A street fight

In many legal jurisdictions related to English common law, affray is a public order offence consisting of the fighting of one or more persons in a public place to the terror (in French: à l'effroi) of ordinary people. Depending on their actions, and the laws of the prevailing jurisdiction, those engaged in an affray may also render themselves liable to prosecution for assault, unlawful assembly, or riot; if so, it is for one of these offences that they are usually charged.[1]

United Kingdom[edit]

England and Wales[edit]

The common law offence of affray was abolished[2] for England and Wales[3] on 1 April 1987.[4] Affray is now a statutory offence that is triable either way. It is created by section 3 of the Public Order Act 1986 which provides:

(1) A person is guilty of affray if he uses or threatens unlawful violence towards another and his conduct is such as would cause a person of reasonable firmness present at the scene to fear for his personal safety.

(2) Where 2 or more persons use or threaten the unlawful violence, it is the conduct of them taken together that must be considered for the purposes of subsection (1).
(3) For the purposes of this section a threat cannot be made by the use of words alone.
(4) No person of reasonable firmness need actually be, or be likely to be, present at the scene.
(5) Affray may be committed in private as well as in public places.
(6) . . . See sections 6(5) to 6(7).
(7) A person guilty of affray is liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 years or a fine or both, or on summary conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months or a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum or both.[5]

The term "violence" expression is defined by section 8.[clarification needed]

Section 3(6) once provided that a constable could arrest without warrant anyone he reasonably suspected to be committing affray, but that subsection was repealed by paragraph 26(2) of Schedule 7 to, and Schedule 17 to, the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005.

The mens rea of affray is that person is guilty of affray only if he intends to use or threaten violence or is aware that his conduct may be violent or threaten violence.[6]

The offence of affray has been used by HM Government to address the problem of drunken or violent individuals who cause serious trouble on airliners.

In R v Childs & Price 2015,[7][8] the Court of Appeal quashed a murder verdict and replaced it with affray, having dismissed an allegation of common purpose.

Northern Ireland[edit]

Affray is a serious offence for the purposes of Chapter 3 of the Criminal Justice (Northern Ireland) Order 2008.[9]


In Queensland, section 72 of the Criminal Code of 1899[10] defines affray as taking part in a fight in a public highway or taking part in a fight of such a nature as to alarm the public in any other place to which the public have access. This definition is taken from that in the English Criminal Code Bill of 1880, cl. 96. Section 72 says "Any person who takes part in a fight in a public place, or takes part in a fight of such a nature as to alarm the public in any other place to which the public have access, commits a misdemeanour. Maximum penalty—1 year’s imprisonment."[11]


The Indian Penal Code (sect. 159) adopts the old English common law definition of affray, with the substitution of "actual disturbance of the peace for causing terror to the lieges".[1]

New Zealand[edit]

In New Zealand affray has been codified as "fighting in a public place" by section 7 of the Summary Offences Act 1981.[12]

South Africa[edit]

Under the Roman-Dutch law in force in South Africa affray falls within the definition of vis publica.[1]

United States[edit]

In the United States the English common law as to affray applies, subject to certain modifications by the statutes of particular states.[1][13]


In 2011, a Henry County, Georgia State Judge dropped Affray Charges against five African American football players who taunted and assaulted an Asian American while screaming 'racial insults against Asians' outside a bar. The five-on-one assault 'was not affray' the judge pronounced.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "Affray", Encyclopædia Britannica, 1911
  2. ^ The Public Order Act 1986, section 9(1)
  3. ^ The Public Order Act 1986, section 42
  4. ^ The Public Order Act 1986 (Commencement No. 2) Order 1987, article 2 and Schedule (1987/198 (C. 4))
  5. ^ Digitised copy of section 3 of the Public Order Act 1986 from
  6. ^ The Public Order Act 1986, section 6(2)
  7. ^
  8. ^ R v Childs & Price 2015: as yet unreported
  9. ^ The Criminal Justice (Northern Ireland) Order 2008, article 12(2) and Schedule 1, paragraph 5.
  10. ^ Schedule 1 to the Criminal Code Act 1899 (Qld)
  11. ^ "Criminal Code Act 1899", retrieved 22 July 2009 from the website of the Office of the Queensland Parliamentary Counsel
  12. ^ Section 7. Fighting in public place in Summary Offences Act 1981. legislation.govt.nz13 January 1981
  13. ^ Bishop, American Criminal Law 8th ed., 1892, vol. i. sec. 535
  14. ^ Elaine Rackley (31 May 2011) "Fifth suspect surrenders in Henry parking lot beating". Jackson Progress-Argus.

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Affray". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.