The Riot Act of 1714.

Photo:George c.1714, the year of his succession, as painted by Sir Godfrey Kneller.

George c.1714, the year of his succession, as painted by Sir Godfrey Kneller.

David Rowland

 

The Riot Act 1714 was an Act of Parliament of Great Britain that authorised local authorities to declare any group of twelve persons or more to be unlawfully gathered, and thus have to disperse or face punitive action. The Act, whose real title was long and read as such: “An Act for preventing tumults and riotous assemblies, and for the more speedy and effectual punishing of the rioters.” 

The Act came into force on the 1st August 1715. It was repealed for England and Wales by section 10(2) of, and part III of schedule 3 to, The Criminal Law Act of 1967. 

The Riot Act of 1714 was introduced during a time of civil disturbance in Great Britain, such as the Sacheverell Riots of 1710, the Coronation riots of 1714 and the 1715 riots in England. The preamble makes reference to ’many rebellious riots and tumults (that) have been (taking place of late) in some parts of this kingdom,” adding that those involved presum(e) so to do, for that punishments provided by the laws now in being are not adequate to such heinous offences.” 

The Act created a mechanism for certain local officials to make a proclamation ordering the dispersal of any group of more than twelve persons 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 Riot Act had to read out in full including, in particular, ‘God save the King.’ 

Several convictions were overturned because parts of the proclamation had been omitted. 

Photo:Police on sit-down strike: Police have been banned from striking since 1919 when almost every constable and sergeant refused to go on duty, causing havoc in London and Liverpool

Police on sit-down strike: Police have been banned from striking since 1919 when almost every constable and sergeant refused to go on duty, causing havoc in London and Liverpool

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The last time it was used ‘in anger’ was on the 3rd August 1919 in Birkenhead during the second Police strike when large numbers of police officers from Birkenhead, Liverpool and Bootle joined the strike. Troops had to be called in to deal with rioting and looting that sprang up and a magistrate read out the Riot Act. None of the Rioters subsequently faced the charge of a statutory felony. It was also used in the same year in Glasgow during the ‘Battle of George Square,’ where 90,000 people were involved. Here as the City Sheriff was reading the Act out, the paper was snatched from his hand by one of the rioters.

However, it is claimed that it was also read out at a bonfire in the village of Chiddingfold, Surrey, in 1929. 

The Riot Act was repealed on the 18th July 1973 for the United Kingdom by the Stature Law (Repeals) Act 1973. By this time the Riot Act was no longer punishable by death. 

Researched and written by David Rowland, Author and Researcher

This page was added by Paul Beaken on 02/01/2015.