Affray, An Offence Against Public Order
When Moses Ssekibogo a.k.a Mowzey Radio, a Ugandan musician died from injuries sustained during a scuffle in a club in Entebbe, the public went haywire about his death. Behind it was a string of murmurs about his history of public fights et al.
Regardless, this cherished singer’s previous brawls and death opened the eyes of many celebrities and the public about the offence of affray.
This little known crime is a famous aftermath at most social gatherings, hangouts and face-offs between conflicting individuals with limited control of their actions, decisions and muscle.
Affray is a term used to describe a physical fight in public. It is a tort. It is disorderly conduct and therefore against public order.
In our jurisdiction, it is illegal to fight, to conduct a fight in public, or incite the fight. Section 79 of Uganda’s Penal Code Act, Cap 120 establishes the offence of affray. It states that;
‘Any person who takes part in a fight in a public place commits a misdemeanour and is liable to imprisonment for one year.’
What constitutes affray?
Looking at the description of what it is, three ingredients stand out. These are;
- Affray is caused by and created by persons.
- The fight must have taken place in public, for the most part.
- The fight is physical in nature.
Affray compared to other forms of violence
Affray is different from ‘challenging someone to fight a duel’. The latter, the Act provides, is where ‘any person challenges another to fight a duel or attempts to provoke another to fight a duel or attempts to provoke any person to challenge to fight a duel’, (see section 80).
Affray is a form of violence. It could be a melee or disturbance and lead to an assault. As long as it is a physical fight, it is affray.
It seems that the law focuses so much on public order than on settling disputes among persons committing affray. However, Courts look at the nature of the fights to determine whether or not the fights are affray or otherwise.
Affray in the United Kingdom compared to Uganda
In other jurisdictions like the United Kingdom, affray is punishable by imprisonment for a term not exceeding three (3) years or a fine or both.
In the United Kingdom, affray as an offence is common among celebrities and sports supporters, many of whom fight when drunk or intoxicated by other substances. The U.K Government has gone ahead and established the ‘mens rea’/intention of affray. English courts deduce affray from the accused if the accused is guilty of intending to or threatens to use violence.
Uganda’s Penal Code does not accommodate reconciliation or fines in cases of affray. It means that once one is arrested for, arraigned and convicted of affray, the only available punishment is imprisonment for a term of one (1) year.
Affray, on conviction automatically gets one in jail. Avoiding it is the best prevention and solution.