Riot Act

views updated May 21 2018

Riot Act, 1715. The Riot Act (1 Geo. I s. 2 c. 5) was hastily passed in July 1715 by a Whig Parliament to deal with the threat of Jacobite insurrection. It provided that, if twelve or more persons, tumultuously assembled, refused to disperse within one hour of a magistrate reading a proclamation, they would be guilty of a felony and could face the death penalty. Persons assisting the dispersal were indemnified. But a secondary motive was to clarify the law of riot, which the case of Dammaree in 1710 had shown to be defective. Daniel Dammaree, a London waterman, had been involved in the Sacheverell riots and had helped to destroy dissenting meeting houses. He was charged with constructive treason in levying war against the queen. Though found guilty, he had been pardoned, since the interpretation seemed strained. But if the Act was intended to stiffen magistrates, it was a doubtful success. The procedure which became known as ‘reading the Riot Act’ was difficult to carry out and the proffered indemnities offered little protection: magistrates were reluctant to read the proclamation and troops even more reluctant to open fire. The proclamation was read for the last time in 1919 but the Act was not repealed until 1967.

J. A. Cannon

Riot Act

views updated Jun 11 2018

Riot Act an Act passed by the British government in 1715 (in the wake of the Jacobite rebellion of that year) and repealed in 1967, designed to prevent civil disorder. The Act made it a felony for an assembly of more than twelve people to refuse to disperse after being ordered to do so and having been read a specified portion of the Act by lawful authority.
read the Riot Act formally read the specified portion of the act as a notification to an assembly to disperse.