16 September 2015 - WHAT WAS THE 'RIOT ACT'?


G'day folks,

Today's post relates to an expression my mother used all the time when I was a kid.

 Parents who “read the riot act” to their unruly children may not know it, but they are following in the footsteps of British magistrates who enforced that country’s Riot Act, which first took effect on August 1, 1715. Parliament passed the Riot Act—officially known as “An Act for preventing tumults and riotous assemblies, and for the more speedy and effectual punishing the rioters”—in response to growing civil unrest by Jacobite mobs who in 1714 revolted against the coronation of German-born Protestant King George I of Hanover, who succeeded Catholic Queen Anne, the last Stuart monarch.

The draconian Riot Act authorized local officials in the United Kingdom and British possessions such as the American colonies and Canada to disperse groups of 12 or more people who “unlawfully, riotously and tumultuously assembled together to the disturbance of the public peace.” The Riot Act stipulated that magistrates first read the following proclamation to disorderly crowds: “Our sovereign Lord the King chargeth and commandeth all persons, being assembled, immediately to disperse themselves, and peaceably to depart to their habitations, or to their lawful business, upon the pains contained in the act made in the first year of King George, for preventing tumults and riotous assemblies. God save the King.” Anyone who failed to leave one hour after the reading of the Riot Act would be guilty of a felony, punishable by prison time, hard labor and even death. The Riot Act authorized authorities to use force to disperse crowds and indemnified them against prosecution for injuring or killing protestors.

Implementation of the law proved challenging as defendants often claimed they never heard the reading of the Riot Act—certainly possible in a noisy melee—and speakers needed to recite the proclamation’s precise language in order for the law to take effect. Omissions of phrases, especially “God save the King,” resulted in several verdicts being overturned. By the 1900s, the use of the Riot Act had become rare, but perhaps surprisingly, it remained in effect in parts of the United Kingdom until its ultimate repeal in 1973. Today, only scolding parents fed up with their rowdy children are left reading the riot act in Britain.

Clancy's comment: There ya go, folks. Now you know.

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