Riot Act

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The Riot Act[1] (1714) (1 Geo.1 St.2 c.5) was an Act of the Parliament of Great Britain that authorized local authorities to declare any group of twelve or more people to be unlawfully assembled, and thus have to disperse or face punitive action. The Act, whose long title was "An act for preventing tumults and riotous assemblies, and for the more speedy and effectual punishing the rioters", came into force on 1 August 1715, and remained on the statute books until 1973.

Contents

Introduction and purpose

The Riot Act was introduced during a time of civil disturbance in Great Britain, such as the Sacheverell riots. The preamble makes reference to "many rebellious riots and tumults [that] have been [taking place of late] in divers parts of this kingdom", adding that those involved "presum[e] so to do, for that the punishments provided by the laws now in being are not adequate to such heinous offences".

Main provisions

Proclamation of riotous assembly

The act created a mechanism for certain local officials to make a proclamation ordering the dispersal of any group of more than twelve people who were "unlawfully, riotously, and tumultuously assembled together". If the group failed to disperse within one hour, then anyone remaining gathered was guilty of a felony without benefit of clergy, punishable by death.

The proclamation could be made in an incorporated town or city by the Mayor, Bailiff or "other head officer", or a Justice of the Peace. Elsewhere it could be made by a Justice of the Peace or the Sheriff or Under-Sheriff. It had to be read out to the gathering concerned, and had to follow precise wording detailed in the act; several convictions were overturned because parts of the proclamation had been omitted, in particular "God save the King".[2]

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