Criminal Litigation



Sedition is a crime closely akin to, but falling short of, high treason. It is sedition to attempt by word, deed or writing to bring the Sovereign, his ministers, officers or judges into hatred or contempt, to stir up discontent and dis- affection among his subjects, to attempt or to excite others to attempt to subvert the Constitution, or to disturb the peace and order of the realm, or, in the language of the Criminals Libel Act of 1820,^ to compose, print or publish any words ” tending to bring into hatred or contempt the person of His Majesty, his heirs or successors, or the Eegent, or the Govern- ment and Constitution of the United Kingdom as by law established, or either House of Parliament, or to excite His Majesty’s subjects to attempt the alteration of any matter in Chui’ch or State as by law established, otherwise than by lawful means.” To do any such act or to publish any such words by speech or writing is a high misdemeanour, for Avhich either an information or an indictment will lie ; and the offender may be sentenced to a term of imprisonment of any length,- or to a fine of any amount, or both ; or in less serious cases he may
be required to find sureties for his good behaviour.^ If two or more agree together to do any such act or to publish any such words, each is guilty of a seditious conspiracy.

No act, however, will be seditious unless its evil consequences are felt over a considerable area or afford a bad example to a considerable number of persons. An isolated breach of the peace is not an act of sedition.
1 60 Geo. III. & 1 Geo. IV. c. 8, 6. 1.
2 Such imprisonment; however, must be in the first division (iO & 41 Vict. c. 21,
6. 40).
3 Ex parte Seymour and Michael Davitt (1883), 12 L. R. Ir. 46 ; 15 Cox, 242.


155 None of the above offences are triable at Quarter Sessions,
It is not necessary for the prosecution to prove expressly
that the defendant intended and desired any of the results stated above : it is sufficient that his acts or words tended to produce such a result. The defendant will be presumed to have intended those consequences which would flow naturally
from his conduct. It is always a question for the jury
whether his acts or words would or would not in fact tend to produce any of these results ; if they would, public safety
demands their repression.
” Every man (who is of sufficient understanding to be responsible for bis actions) is supposed to be cognisant of the law, as it is the rule by which
every subject of the kingdom is to be governed, and therefore it is his
Ijusiness to know it. If, therefore, a man publishes that which the law
says is treasonable, seditious or rebellious, the alleging in the indictment
or information that the party did it with a libellous or seditious intent is a mere matter of legal inference from the fact of publication, and not the
object of proof either on one side or the other.” But ” where the fact of publication is ambiguous (as where it may be a doubt whether the party
pulled the paper out of his pocket by accident or on purpose, or whether he gave one paper instead of another, or any such supposable case) there the maxim holds that adus nonfacii reum, nisi mens sif rea.'” ^
If the defendant’s acts or words attack the honour and
integrity of our judges, or in any way tend to obstruct the administration of justice, they are not only seditious : they
are also a contempt of court, and may be punished summarily
as snch.’^ Insolent misconduct in defiance of either House of Parliament or scandalous attacks on a member of either House may also be punished as a contempt of the House,^
One striking instance of a seditious act is that of inciting
soldiers or sailors to desert or to mutiny. Any one who
maliciously endeavours to seduce from his allegiance to His
Majesty or incites to any act of mutiny any person serving
in His Majesty’s forces by sea or land is guilty of felonly
and liable to penal servitude for life or to imprisonment for
1 Per Ashurst, J., in R. v. Shipley (1781), 4 Dougl. at p. 177 ; and see McLeod
T, St. Aubyn, [1899] A. C. 549.
2 See post, p. 201.
^ See Odgers on Libel and Slander (otli ed.), p. 521
156 SEDITION. not more than three years.^ The Army Act, 1881,- which
contains provisions of the same kind, also enacts that the
deserter or mutineer himself may be tried by court martial,
and, if on or under orders for active service at the time of desertion or mutiny, may be sentenced to death. The Xaval
Discipline Act, 1866,- provides for the punishment of sailors who are guilty of mutiny or desertion. Another seditious act would be the training of others in the art of warfare without lawful authority. It is a mis- demeanour punishable with seven years’ penal servitude (a) to be 2)resent in an assembly unlawfully convened for the purpose
of training or drilling others in the use of arms or in any
military exercises, or (b) to train or drill others, or to aid or
assist in so doing. It is a misdemeanour punishable with two
years’ imprisonment and fine for any one to be thus trained or
drilled, or to attend such an assembly for that purpose.^ The
prosecution must be commenced within six months after the
date of the offence.
Frci’inunire. Certain ancient forms of sedition were punished under the writ of lyrmmunire, which is now practically obsolete. Such offences, though only misdemeanours, were very severely punished ; the offender was liable to imprisonment for life ; he forfeited to the Crown all his property, real and
personal, and was declared incapable of taking any legal proceedings. These heavy punishments are frequently alluded to as “the pains and
penalties of a pi-amunire.^’ They were inflicted on any one who in this country attempted to place the authority of some foreign potentate (usually the Pope) above that of the King of England. Thus Cardinal Wolsey
was indicted and convicted in 1529 of procuring Papal bulls from Rome
contrary to the ancient statutes of ^vc&mumre, which were even then
practically obsolete. The principal offences oi prcemuiiire still recognised in our criminal law
are :

(i.) By 25 Hen. YIII. c. 20, the refusal of a dean and chapter to elect to a bishopric the clergyman nominated to them by the King.
(ii.) By the Habeas Corpus Act ^ the unlawful sending of any prisoner outside the realm so that he would be beyond the protection of the writ of
haheoii corpus ; for there is no power in the High Court or in any judge to
1 37 Geo. III. c. 70, s. 1 ; and see 7 WiU. IV. & 1 Vict. c. 91, s. 52.
2 44 & 45 Vict. c. 58, s. 12. Tbiis Act is re-enacted every year.
2\\ & m Vict. c. 109, ss. 10. in, as amended bv 47 & 48 Vict. c. 39.
4 GO Geo. III. & 1 Geo. IV. c. 1, s. 1.
5 31 Gar. II. c. 2.
order the issue of a writ of habeas corpus directed .to a person who at the date of the order is out of the jurisdiction.^
(iii.) Solemnising or assisting or being present at a marriage which is contrary to the Royal Marriages Act, 1772.- Scditious Words. Words which are merely spoken cannot, as we have seen,

amount to treason, or treason-felony ; but they often induce
sedition. It is a misdemeanour to speak or to wi-ite and
publish any words which tend to bring into hatred or con- tempt the Sovereign or his ministers, or the Government
and Constitution of the realm, or either House of Parliament,
or the Courts of justice, or to excite His Majesty’s subjects
to attempt the alteration of any matter in Church or State, otherwise than by lawful means. This misdemeanour cannot be tried at Quarter Sessions. The defendant will not be
allowed to urge as a defence that the words are true ; ^ for Lord Campbell’s Act does not apply to seditious words.^ Thus it is sedition to speak, as well as to write and publish, of the Sovereign any words which deny his title to the Crown, or call his legitimacy
in question, or impute that he is insane,” or corrupt, or immoral in his private life, or perjured”—any words, in short, which would be libellous and actionable per se, if printed and published of any other public character ; for such words must tend to create disaffection and disorder. But to assert that the King is misled by his ministers, or is wrong in his policy, is no crime. Again, a publication is not a seditious libel unless it affects the govern- ment of this country. Hence, if the words complained of, though
published in this country, do not tend to disturb the peace and tranquillity of the United Kingdom, but only of some foreign country, they are not
a seditious libel, and are not punishable here as such^ (although they may
possibly be indictable here as a personal libel upon the individual Sovereign attacked ^). But where there is no intention to foment disaffection among the people, to obstruct the administration of the law,
or to disturb the peace and tranquillity of the realm, the
1 R. V. Pinekney, [190i] 2 K. B. 84.
2 12 Geo. III. o. 11, s. 3.
3 Ante, p. 148.
^ Ex ‘parte William O’Brien (1883), 13 L. R. Ir. 29.
5 6 & 7 Vict. c. 96, s. 6.
6 R. V. Harvey and Chapman (1823), 2 B. & C. 257.
7 St. John’s Case (1615), Noy, 105.
t^ R. V. Antonelli (1906), 70 J. P. 4. See R. V. Peltier (1803), 28 St. Tr. 617 ; R. v. Most (1881), 7 Q. B. D. 2i4.
158 SEDITION. utmost latitude is allowed iu the discussiou of all public
affairs. A fair comment on any matter of public interest is no crime. ” The power of free discussion is the right of every subject in this country. In a free country like ours the productions of a political author should not be too hardly
dealt with.”^ ” The people have a right to discuss any
grievances they may have to complain of.” – “A journalist
may canvass and censure the acts of the Government and
their policy—and, indeed, it is his duty.” ^ In the j^resent day at all events, an attempt to remove
from power the ministers in office, or any agitation for the
abolition of any tax or the repeal of any Act of Parliament, cannot be seditious if no unlawful means be employed. Any
meeting lawfully convened for the discussion of any matter
of public interest, or for the bond fixU purpose of reforming
our laws by petitioning Parliament, &c., is not seditious. So
with our newspapers. Any words which directly tend to create riot and disorder will be punished. But subject to these restrictions, which are necessary for the protection of the public safety, our newspapers are free to publish what
they choose on any matter of public interest. The best method of anticipating and thus preventing sedition is to redress all just grievances of the people. Hence those who
call attention to such grievances and endeavour by lawful means to remove them are not guilty of sedition; on the
contrary, they are assisting the Government in forestalling
sedition.* This conutry is the birthplace of “the Lil)erty of the Press.” At first no doubt the printing press was regarded with apprehension, and deemed a danger to the State. The King endeavoured to restrict the number of
presses and to keep them all in safe hands. Then a censor was appointed, and no one might print (or, later, publish) a book without his Imprimatur. This censorship continued till 1(395, in spite of Milton’s noble protest, the
Areoj/af/iiica, which was published on 24th November, 1(U4. But since 1695 no preliminary licence is necessary : any man may publish what he
will ; but he must be prepared to take the consequences if a jury decide
1 Per Lord Kenyon, C. J., in R. v. Beeves (1796), Peake, Add. C. at p. 86.
2 Per Littledale, J., in R. v. ColUns (1839), 9 C. & P. at p. 461.
* Per Fitzgerald, J., in R. v. Sullivan and others (1868), 11 Cox. at p. 54.
^ See Odgers on Libel and Slander (5th ed.), pp. 518—522.
that what he has published is a libel. In the latter part of the eighteenth century this question vras deemed one for the judge rather than the jury
in a criminal case ; the jury found the fact of publication, and then the judge decided whether the words were libellous or not. But in 1792 Mr. Fox’s Act ^ put a stop to this, and restored the earlier criminal law, by which the practice in civil and criminal cases was identical, viz., that the question of libel or no libel was for the jury.^ Since that date the English Press has been the freest in the world.
1 32 Geo. III. c. 60.


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