RIOT (O. Fr. riote, of uncertain etymology), the gravest kind of breach of the peace, short of treason, known to the English law. It consists in a tumultuous disturbance of the peace by an assemblage of three or more persons who, with intent to help one another against any one who opposes them in the execution of some enterprise, actually execute that enterprise in a violent and turbulent manner, to the terror of the people. It is not necessary that violence should be used to any person or damage done to any property. Whether the enterprise itself is lawful or unlawful is not material, the gist of the offence lying in the mode in which the enterprise is carried out (The Trafalgar Square Riots, 1888, 16 Cox. Cr. Cas. 420, 427; Stephen, Dig. Crim. Law, 6th ed., art. 77). Nor is it material whether the enterprise is of a private or a public nature, though in the latter case the rioters may also be guilty of sedition or treason. An assembly in its inception perfectly lawful may become a riot if the persons assembled proceed to form and execute a common purpose in the manner above stated, although they had no such purpose when they first assembled. Riot differs from " Affray " in the number of persons necessary to constitute the offence, from an " Unlawful Assembly " in that actual tumult or violence is an essential element, and from " Rout," which may be described as a beginning or endeavour to create a riot. It was considered as early as the 14th century that the English common law gave an insufficient remedy against riot. In 1360 the statute of 34 Edward III. gave jurisdiction to justices to restrain, arrest and imprison rioters. In 1393 the statute of 17 Richard II. conferred similar powers on the sheriff and posse comitatus. Numerous other acts extending the common law were passed, especially in the Tudor reigns (see Stephen, History of the Criminal Law, vol. i. p. 202). Both these acts above mentioned are still on the statute book, but the earliest act now in force of real importance as to this offence is the Riot Act (1716), which creates certain statutory offences for riot attended by circumstances of aggravation. That act makes it the duty of a justice, sheriff, mayor or other authority, wherever twelve persons or more are unlawfully, riotously and tumultuously assembled together, to the disturbance of the public peace, to resort to the place of such assembly and read the following proclamation: " 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 tumultuous and riotous assemblies. God save the King." It is a felony to obstruct the reading of the proclamation or to remain or continue together unlawfully, riotously and tumultuously for one hour after the proclamation was made or for one hour after it would have been made but for being hindered. The act requires the justices to seize and apprehend all persons continuing after the hour, and indemnifies them and those who act under their authority from liability for injuries caused thereby. The punishment for the felony is penal servitude for life or for a term of not less than three years, or imprisonment with or without hard labour for not more than two years. Prosecutions for an offence against the act must be commenced within twelve months after the offence.
By s. ii of the Malicious Damage Act 1861 (which is a reenactment of a similar provision made in 1827 in consequence of the frame-breaking riots) , it is a felony for persons riotously and tumultuously assembled together to the disturbance of the public peace to unlawfully and with force demolish or begin to demolish or pull down or destroy any building, public building, machinery or mining plant. The punishment is the same as for a felony under the Riot Act. By s. 12 it is a misdemeanour to injure or damage such building, etc. The punishment is penal servitude from three to seven years, or imprisonment as in the case of the two felonies above described. Under the Shipping Offences Act (1793) a riotous assemblage of three or more seamen, ship's carpenters and other persons, unlawfully and with force preventing and hindering or obstructing the loading or unloading or the sailing or navigation of any vessel, or unlawfully and with force boarding any vessel with intent to prevent, etc., is punishable on a first conviction as a misdemeanour by imprisonment from six to twelve months, and on a second conviction as a felony by penal servitude from three to fourteen years. And under the Offences against the Person Act 1861 (s. 40) summary penalties are provided for forcible interference with seamen in the exercise of their lawful occupation.
Besides these enactments there are others aimed at similar offences, such as smuggling, forcible entry and detainer, tumultuous petitioning (1661, 13 Charles II.), holding large political meetings within a certain distance of Westminster Hall during the sitting of parliament (Seditious Meetings Act 1817). For these offences see Stephen, Dig. Cr. Law, 6th ed., arts. 81-87.
It is the duty of a magistrate at the time of a riot to assemble subjects of the realm, whether civil or military, for the purpose of quelling the riot. In this duty he is aided by the common law, and a statute of 1414 (Henry V.), under which all subjects of the realm are bound to assist on reasonable warning, and by various enactments enabling the authorities to call out the militia, yeomanry and reserve forces for the suppression of riot, and to close public-houses where a riot is apprehended (Licensing Act 1872). It is his duty to keep the peace; if the peace be broken, honesty of intention will not avail him if he has been guilty of neglect of duty. The question is whether he did all that he knew was in his power and which could be expected from a man of ordinary prudence, firmness and activity. The law as thus stated is gathered from the opinions of the judges on the trials of the lord mayor of London and the mayor of Bristol on indictments for neglect of duty at the time of the Gordon riots of 1780 and the Bristol riots in 1831.* In addition to his liability to an indictment at common law, a defaulting magistrate is subject under the provisions of acts of 1411 (Henry IV.) and 1414 (Henry V.) to a penalty of 100 for every default, the default to be inquired of by commission under the great seal. A matter of interest is the extent of the protection afforded by the Riot Act to soldiers acting under the commands of their officers. The question was dealt with by Lord Bowen and his fellow-commissioners in the report on the Featherstone riots (Parl. Paper, 1893-1894, c. 7234). The substance of their views is as follows:
By the law of England every one is bound to aid in the suppression of riotous assemblages. The degree of force, however, which may be lawfully employed in their, suppression depends on the nature of each riot, for the force used must always be moderated and proportioned to the circumstances of the case and to the end to be attained. The taking of life can only be justified by the necessity for prdtecting persons or property against various forms of violent crime, or by the necessity of dispersing a riotous crowd which is dangerous unless dispersed, or in the case of persons whose conduct has become felonious through disobedience to the provisions of the Riot Act, and who resist the attempt to disperse or apprehend them. The necessary prevention of such outrage on person or property justifies the guardians of the peace in the employment against a crowd of even deadly weapons. Officers and soldiers are under no special privileges and subject to no special responsibilities as regards the principle of the law. A soldier for the purpose of establishing civil order is only a citizen armed in a particular manner. He cannot because he is a soldier be exonerated if without necessity he takes human life. The duty of magistrates and peace officers to summon or abstain from summoning the assistance of the military depends in like manner on the necessities of the case. A soldier can act only by using his arms. The weapons he carries are deadly. They cannot be employed at all without danger to life or limb, and in these days of improved rifles and perfected ammunition without some risk of danger to distant and possibly innocent bystanders. To call for assistance against rioters from those who can interfere only under such grave conditions ought, of course, to be the last expedient of the civil authorities. But when the call for help is made and a necessity for assistance from the military has arisen, to refuse such assistance is in law a misdemeanour. The whole action of the military when once called in ought from first to last to be based on the principle of doing, and doing without fear, that which is absolutely necessary to prevent serious crime, and of exercising care and skill with regard to what is done. No set of rules exists which governs every instance or defines beforehand any contingency that may arise. The presence of a magistrate is not essential, but is usual, and of the highest value to aid the commander of the troops by local knowledge. But his presence or absence has no legal effect on the duties or responsibilities of the military to use their arms when it becomes necessary to do so, and without recklessness or negligence and with reasonable care and caution; and where they have so acted the killing of a rioter is justifiable homicide, and the killing of an innocent bystander is homicide by misadventure. It is not usual to resort to extremities with rioters until after reading the proclamation under the Riot Act (1716), 1 Reports of these trials will be found in the State Trials, New Series, vol. iii. pp. I, 1 1. Most of the important cases of riot are collected or referred to in that series.
but this preliminary is by no means a condition precedent to the exercise of the common-law powers of suppressing riots.
The crown cannot charge upon the local rates the expense of maintaining soldiers called into a district by the magistrates to suppress a riot (re Glamorgan County Council, L.R. 1899, 2 Q.B. 536); but the cost of extra police drafted in for the like purpose falls on the rates of the district into which they are drafted (see Police Act 1890, s. 25). Until 1886 persons whose property was damaged by riot had a civil remedy of an exceptional character by action against the hundred in which the riot took place. This remedy was a survival of the pre-Conquest liability of the hundred to guarantee the orderly conduct of its inhabitants. The hundred was made liable in case of robbery by the Statute of Winchester (1285). 1 That and subsequent acts were repealed in the reign of George IV., and their provisions were consolidated by an act of 1827 which gave a remedy against the hundred in the case of felonious demolition of churches, chapels, houses, machinery, etc., being feloniously demolished by rioters. The last instance of the use of this exceptional remedy was in the case of a riot at Worthing, and the remedy was abolished in 1886. When the Piccadilly riots occurred in that year no one knew that the injured shops were in the hundred of Ossulston, and difficulties arose in applying the old procedure. So an ex post facto statute was passed "(the Metropolitan Police Compensation Act 1886) for a special settlement of the claims, and the old statutes were repealed and replaced by the Riot Damage Act 1886. Under this act compensation is payable where rioters have injured or destroyed houses, shops, buildings, fixed or movable machinery and appliances prepared or used for or in connexion with manufactures or agriculture, or for mines or quarries, or vessels stranded or in distress (see WRECK), or have injured, stolen, or destroyed property in houses, shops or buildings. The compensation is payable out of the police rate for the district in which the damage is done; or if it was done afloat, for the district nearest to the scene of action. The claim is made on the police authority for the district. The time and form for making claims and the mode of fixing the amount of compensation is regulated by rules made by the Home Secretary on the 30th of June 1894 (Stat. R. and O. 1894, No. 636). In adjusting the amount regard is had to the conduct of the claimant, viz. as to precautions taken by him, his share, if any, in the riot, or provocation offered to the rioters. Failure to carry out a programme for athletic sports has been held to debar a claimant from compensation for damage done by a riot among the disappointed spectators who had paid to see the sports. The claimant must give credit for insurance money, or any other compensation received in respect of the damage; but the insurers or persons who paid such compensation may file a claim against the police rate for the amount paid by them. Persons dissatisfied with the award of the police authority may sue for the recovery of their claim subject to a liability to pay all the costs if they do not get judgment for more than the amount awarded. The action, if it is not for more than 100, is to be brought in the county court. The remedy is available in the case of stranded ships plundered by rioters (s. 515 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1894).
The Riot Act does not extend to Ireland, but similar provisions are contained in an act of the Irish Parliament passed in 1787 as amended by acts of 1831 and 1842. These acts create a special offence punishable by penal servitude for life, viz. sending notices, letters or messages inciting or tending to riot. Under the Criminal Procedure Ireland Act 1887 (a temporary act) summary proceedings may be taken against rioters. The civil remedy against the county or borough for malicious injury to property, real or personal, including ships in distress and their cargo, is wider than in England or Scotland, but it includes malicious injury by rioters where 1 There is a curious exception still on the Statute-book depriving persons robbed while travelling on the Lord's Day of any right to compensation from the hundred (Lord's Day Act 1677, s. 5).
the injury is a crime within the Malicious Damage Act of 1861. Claims are now dealt with in the county court, and not as formerly by the grand jury and judge of assize (Local Government Ireland Act 1898, s. 5).
In Scotland a riot may be either " rioting and mobbing " or " rioting and breach of the peace." The first is much the same as riot in English law. Mobbing consists in the assembling of a number of people and then combining against order or peace to the alarm of the lieges (Alison, Cr. Law of Scotland, vol. i. p. 509; Macdonald, Criminal Law, 180). The second offence occurs when concourse or a common purpose are wanting. Numerous acts against rioting and unlawful convocation were passed by the Scottish parliament, beginning in 1487. The Riot Act (1716) applies to Scotland. There is a civil remedy against the county or burgh in which a riot takes place in respect of damage done by the rioters to houses, churches, buildings and ships, and buildings or engines used in trade or manufacture. The remedy is given by a series of statutes of 1716, 1812, 1816, 1817 and 1894. The procedure for its enforcement is now regulated by the Riotous Assemblies (Scotland) Act 1822, and amending statutes. The county or burgh authorities may adjust claims without litigation, and pay them out of the general assessments.
British Dominions. In India the offence of riot, as defined by s. 146 of the Penal Code, consists in the use of force or violence by an unlawful assembly (which must consist of at least five persons, s. 141), or by any member thereof in the prosecution of the common object of such assembly (see Mayne, Ind. Criminal Law, ed. 1896, p. 489). In Ceylon and the Straits Settlements provisions based on the Indian Code are in force. In most of the settled Colonies the English law as to riot applies subject to local legislation. The Criminal Codes of Canada (1892, ss. 79-86), New Zealand (1893, ss. 83-89) and Queensland (1899, ss. 61-67) adopt the substance of the English law as to riot, in terms borrowed from the English draft Code of 1880. In those of the West Indies whose common law is based on that of France, Holland or Spain, the English law as to riot has been applied by ordinance, e.g. in British Guiana (Criminal Code 1893, tit. xix), and St Lucia (Criminal Code 1888, tit. xxv). In the South African colonies the English law of riot does not apply, but under the Dutch Roman law there exists a similar offence, known as " public violence " (vis publica), i.e. the use of violence and force by which the public rest and order is endangered and the authority of the lawful authorities and officials is set at naught. The offence was capital (see Van Leeuwen, Roman-Dutch Law, tr. by Kotze, 1886, vol. ii. p. 294; Morice, English and Roman-Dutch Law, 1903, p. 334). Similar provisions based on the French Penal Code are in force in Mauritius (Penal Code of 1838).
United States. In the United States the law is based upon that of England (see Bishop, Amer. Cr. L., 8th ed., 1892, vol. i. s. 534, vol. ii. ss. 1143 et seq.). In some states there is a statutory proclamation for the dispersion of rioters in terms almost identical with those of the British Riot Act. The city, town, or county is by the statutes of many states rendered liable for damage caused by rioters, with or without a remedy over against the persons who did the damage (see revised Laws of Massachusetts, ed. 1902, chap. 211, sects. 2, 8).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)