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Moreover, it is provided by 57 Geo. III. c. 19, s. 23, that it shall not be lawful for any person to convene, or give notice of convening, any meeting consisting of more than fifty persons, or for any number of persons exceeding the number of fifty, to meet in any street, square, or open space in the city or liberties of Westminster or county of Middlesex, within a distance of a mile from the gate of Westminster Hall, (except such parts of the parish of St. Paul's, Covent Garden, as are within such distance,)for the purpose of considering of or preparing any peti tion, complaint, remonstrance, declaration or other address to both or either house of parliament for alteration of matters in Church or State,-on any day on which the two houses or either house of parliament shall meet and sit, or shall be summoned or adjourned or prorogued to meet or sit, nor on any day on which the courts shall sit in Westminster Hall. And any such meeting is by the Act made an unlawful assembly (i). But there is a provision that the enactment shall not apply to any meeting for the election of members to serve in parliament, nor to persons attending upon the business of either house of parliament, or any of the said courts (k).
VII. [A seventh offence against the peace is that of a forcible entry or detainer; which is committed by violently taking, -or, after an unlawful taking, violently keeping possession of—lands and tenements, with menaces, force and arms, and without the authority of
Charles was not affected by the declaration subsequently inserted into the Bill of Rights (1 W. & M. st. 2, c. 2), that “the subject has a right to petition, and that all commitments and prosecutions for such petitions are illegal.” However, the provisions of the Act have not been enforced in modern times, though on the other hand, at a
season of great public excitement, fresh, though temporary, prohibitions as to meetings, for deliberations on public questions, were made by 60 Geo. 3 & 1 Geo. 4, c. 6.
(i) As to what this term imports vide sup. p. 254.
(k) As to this Act, see 1 Russ. on Crimes, p. 280.
[law (?). A forcible entry was formerly allowable to every person disseised or turned out of possession, unless his entry was taken away or barred by his own neglect or other circumstances; but it is now,—as well as a forcible detainer,-a misdemeanor, punishable by fine and imprisonment (m).
VIII. The offence of riding or going armed with dangerous or unusual weapons is a misdemeanor, tending to disturb the peace, by terrifying the good people of the land; and it is particularly prohibited by the Statute of Northampton, (2 Edw. III. c. 3,) upon pain of forfeiture of the arms, and imprisonment during the pleasure of the Crown; in like manner as, by the laws of Solon, every Athenian was finable who walked about the city in armour (n).
IX. Spreading false news, to make discord between the sovereign and nobility, or concerning any great man of the realm, is also a misdemeanor, punishable by common law with fine and imprisonment (o); which is confirmed by statutes Westminster the first (3 Edw. I. c. 34); 2 Ric. II. st. 1, c. 5; and 12 Ric. II. c. 11.
X. False and pretended prophecies, with intent to disturb the peace, are equally unlawful and more penal, as they raise enthusiastic jealousies in the people, and terrify them with imaginary fears. They are, therefore, punished by our laws as misdemeanors : and that upon the same principle that spreading of public news of any kind, without communicating it first to the magistrate, was prohibited by the antient Gauls (p). Such false and
(1) See R. v. Oakley, 4 Barn. & Adol. 30; R. v. Wilson, 3 Ad. & El. 817; 1 Russ. on Crimes, p. 340.
(m) See the statutes 5 Ric. 2, st. 1, c. 8; 15 Ric. 2, c. 2; 8 Hen. 6, c. 9; 31 Eliz. c. 11; 21 Jac. 1, c. 15.
(n) Pott. Antiq. b. 1, c. 26.
(P) “ Habent legibus sanctum, si quis quid de republicà a finitimis rumore aut famå acceperit, uti ad magistratum deferat, nere cum
[pretended prophecies were punished capitally by 33 Hen. VIII. c. 14; which was however altered by the temporary Acts of 3 & 4 Edw. VI. c. 15, and 7 Edw. VI. c. 11 (p): and afterwards by the statute 5 Eliz. c. 15, the penalty for the first offence was a fine of ten pounds and one year's imprisonment; for the second, forfeiture of all goods and chattels and imprisonment during life (9).
XI. Besides actual breaches of the peace, any thing that tends to provoke or incite others to break it, is an offence of the same denomination. Therefore, challenges to fight, either by word or letter, or the bearing of such challenges, are misdemeanors, punishable by fine and imprisonment, according to the circumstances of the offence (r).]
XII. Another kind of misdemeanor, amounting in many instances to an incitement to break the peace, is the publication of a libel. Of defamatory libels we have already said so much in a former part of the work, as to preclude the necessity for any copious discussion of them on the present occasion. It may be right, however, to remark in this place, that, by the provisions of 6 & 7 Vict. c. 96 (s), it is enacted, that if any person shall publish or threaten to publish any libel, or directly or indirectly propose to abstain from printing or publishing, or offer to prevent the printing or publishing, of any matter touching any person, with intent to extort any money, security for money, or valuable thing from such person or any other; or with intent to induce any person
alio communicet; quod sæpe homines temerarios atque imperitos falsis rumoribus terreri, et ad facinus impelli, et de summis rebus consilium capero, cognitum est.” -Cæs. de Bell. Gall. lib. 6, cap. 19.
(P) See Coleridge's Blackstone (vol. iv. p. 149), in notis, where
Blackstone's statement on this subject is corrected.
(9) This statute was repealed as obsolete, in the year 1863.
(r) Hawk. P. C. b. 1, c. 63, ss. 3, 21.
(8) This Act is amended by 8 & 9 Vict. c. 75.
to confer or procure any appointment or office of profit or trust; -he shall be liable to imprisonment, with or without hard labour, for a term not exceeding three years (t). Also, that if any person shall maliciously publish any defamatory libel, knowing the same to be false, he shall be imprisoned for a term not exceeding two years, and pay such fine as the court shall award (u). And that if any person (though without such knowledge) shall maliciously publish any defamatory libel, he shall be liable to fine or imprisonment, or both, as the court shall award, such imprisonment not to exceed one year (x).
It is also necessary to observe, that besides defamatory libels, the term of libel legally includes such writings as are of a blasphemous, treasonable, seditious, or immoral kind; the publication of any of which is equally a misdemeanor, and subjects the person by whom it was composed, written, printed or published, to fine and imprisonment(y). And by 60 Geo. III. & 1 Geo. IV. c. 9, s. 16, it is enacted, that if a person charged with printing or publishing any blasphemous, seditious, or malicious libel, be brought up to give bail,—the court, judge, or justice of the peace, before whom he is so brought, may make it part of the condition of the recognizance that he shall be of good behaviour during the continuance of the recognizance. It is also provided by 60 Geo. III. & 1 Geo. IV. c. 8, as to libels of a blasphemous or seditious kind, that in every case in which any verdict or judgment by default shall be had against any person for composing, printing, or publishing the same,—the judge or court before whom such verdict shall have been given, may order the seizure and detaining of all copies thereof, which shall be in the possession of the person against whom such verdict was given ; or in the possession of any other person for his use. And upon proper evidence being given
(t) 6 & 7 Vict. c. 96, s. 3.
(y) See 4 Bl. Com. p. 451, note by Christian,
of such possession, it shall be lawful for any justice of the peace, constable, or other peace officer, acting under such order, to search for such copies, in any house, building or place belonging to the person who shall be named in such order: and to enter therein (in the day time), by force, if admission be refused or unreasonably delayed.
[Under the Roman law libel considered as a criminal offence was treated, at certain periods, with more severity than with us. By the law of the Twelve Tables, libels which affected the reputation of another, were made a capital offence; but before the reign of Augustus, the punishment became corporal only(z). Under the Emperor Valentinian it was again made capital not only to write libels, but to publish or even to omit to destroy them (a). But our law, in this and many other respects, corresponds rather with the middle age of Roman jurisprudence, when liberty, learning and humanity were in their full vigour; and exhibits a moderation sufficient to protect it from any imputation of infringing the liberty of the press.
This liberty, when rightly understood, consists in laying no previous restraints upon publications; not in freedom from censure for criminal matter, when published. Every freeman has an undoubted right to lay what sentiments he pleases before the public; to forbid this is to destroy the freedom of the press; but if he publishes what is improper, mischievous or illegal, he must take the consequence of his own temerity. To subject the press to the restrictive power of a licenser, as was formerly done, both before and since the Revolution (b), is to subject all freedom of senti
Quinetiam lex Pænaque lata, malo quæ nollet
carmine quenquam Describi:vertere modum formi
dine fastis.”—Hor. ad Aug. 152. (a) Cod. 9, 36.
(6) The art of printing, soon after its introduction, was looked upon, as well in England as in other
countries, as merely a matter of state, and subject to the coercion of the Crown. It was therefore regulated with us by the king's proclamations, prohibitions, charters of privilege and of licence, and, finally, by the decrees of the Court of Star Chamber, which limited the namber of printers, and of presses which