ASSEMBLY, UNLAWFUL, the term used in English law for an assembly of three or more persons with intent to commit a crime by force, or to carry out a common purpose (whether lawful or unlawful), in such a manner or in such circumstances as would in the opinion of firm and rational men endanger the public peace or create fear of immediate danger to the tranquillity of the neighbourhood. In the Year Book of the third year of Henry VII.'s reign assemblies were referred to as not punishable unless in terrorem populi domini regis. It has been suggested (Criminal Code Commission, 1879) that legislation first became necessary at a time when it was usual for those landed proprietors who were on bad terms with one another to go to market at the head of bands of armed retainers (Statute of Northampton, 1328, 2 Edw. III. c. 3). An assembly, otherwise lawful, is not made unlawful if those who take part in it know beforehand that there will probably be organized opposition to it, and that it may cause a breach of the peace (Beatty v. Gillbanks, 1882, 9 Q.B.D. 308). All persons may, and must if called upon to do so, assist in dispersing an unlawful assembly (Redford v. Birley, 1822, 1 St. Tr. n.s. 1215; R. v. Pinney, 1831, 3 St. Tr. n.s. 11). An assembly which is lawful cannot be rendered unlawful by proclamation unless the proclamation is one authorized by statute (R. v. Fursey, 1833, 3 St. Tr. n.s. 543, 567; R. v. O'Connell, 1831, 2 St. Tr. n.s. 629, 656; see also the Prevention of Crimes [Ireland] Act 1887). Meetings for training or drilling, or military movements, are unlawful assemblies unless held under lawful authority from the crown, the lord-lieutenant, or two justices of the peace (Unlawful Drilling Act 1820, s. 11).
An unlawful assembly which has made a motion towards its common purpose is termed a rout, and if the unlawful assembly should proceed to carry out its purpose, e.g. begin to demolish a particular enclosure, it becomes a riot (q.v.). All three offences are misdemeanours in English law, punishable by fine and imprisonment. The common law as to unlawful assembly extends to Ireland, subject to the special legislation referred to under the title Riot. The law of Scotland includes unlawful assembly under the same head as rioting.
British Dominions Abroad. - The law of the British colonies as a general rule as to unlawful assemblies follows the common law of England. The definitions in the Criminal Codes of Canada (1892, s. 79) and Queensland (1899, s. 61) are substantially the same as the common-law definition above given. Under the Indian Penal Code (s. 141) an assembly of five or more persons is designated an unlawful assembly if the common object of the persons composing that assembly is - (1) to overawe by criminal force, or show of criminal force, the legislative or executive government of India, or the government of any presidency or any lieutenant-governor, or any public servant in the exercise of the lawful power of such public servant; (2) to resist the execution of any law or of any legal process; (3) to commit any mischief or "criminal trespass" or other offence; (4) by means of criminal force or show of criminal force to any person, to take or obtain possession of any property, or to deprive any person of the enjoyment of a right of way, or of the use of water, or other corporeal right of which he is in possession or enjoyment, or to enforce any right or supposed right; or (5) by means of criminal force or show of criminal force, to compel any person to do what he is not legally bound to do, or to omit to do what he is legally entitled to do (see Mayne, Ind. Cr. Law, ed. 1896, p. 480). In South Africa and Mauritius the law on this subject is derived from the Roman Dutch and French law (see Riot.)
United States. - The common-law definition of unlawful assembly is accepted in the United States subject to the special legislation of the constituent states. The New York Penal Code (s. 451) declares that whenever three or more persons being assembled attempt or threaten any act tending towards a breach of the peace or injury to person or property, or any unlawful act, such assembly is unlawful (see Bishop, Amer. Crim. Law, 8th ed., 1892, vol. i. s. 534, vol. ii. s. 1256).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)