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The Riot Act

The Riot Act by British Parliament

The Riot Act was passed by the British Parliament in 1714, the first year of the reign of George I, and came into effect in August 1715. This was a time of widespread social disturbance, as the preamble describes; the Act sought to put an end to this. A group of twelve or more people, “being unlawfully, riotously and tumultuously assembled”, would be read a proclamation; they must disperse within an hour, on pain of death. The same fate would befall anyone preventing the reading of the proclamation, or damaging buildings while on a riot. If the law enforcement officers happened to injure or kill a rioter, they were immune from prosecution. The reading of the proclamation, the wording of which is detailed in the Act, was the necessary first step before action could be taken against the rioters. This gave us the phrase “to read the riot act”, to give a stern warning or rebuke. The Act was repealed in Britain in 1973, but had long since fallen into disuse there. A version is still in force in Canada.

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Full text of the Riot Act (c. 1714 1715)

Typed in this February 8, 2002 by Jonathan Walther. The source was cap V, volume XIII, pages 142 146 of the ``Statutes At Large'' series, printed in the year 1764. Also indexed as ``Anno primo GEORGEII I. Stat. 2. C. 5.'' Many sources on the Internet claim the Riot Act was passed in 1715; according to Statutes At Large it was passed in 1714. The confusion may be caused by the fact that the Act took effect in August of 1715. This is, of course, the famous Riot Act that gave rise to the expression "Read them the Riot Act!". CAP. V.

An act for preventing tumults and riotous assemblies, and for the more speedy and effectual punishing the rioters. I.

Whereas of late many rebellious riots and tumults have been in divers parts of this kingdom, to the disturbance of the publick peace, and the endangering of his Majesty's person and government, and the same are yet continued and fomented by persons disaffected to his Majesty, presuming so to do, for that the punishments provided by the laws now in being... Continue reading book >>

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