Tag Archives: Treason Felony Act

An odd and ancient law

When it comes to the monarchy, Parliament seems content to leave obsolete draconian restrictions on the statute book.

Have a look at this.

“If any person whatsoever shall, within the United Kingdom or without, compass, imagine, invent, devise, or intend to deprive or depose our Most Gracious Lady the Queen, from the style, honour, or royal name of the imperial crown of the United Kingdom, or of any other of her Majesty’s dominions and countries, [….] and such compassings, imaginations, inventions, devices, or intentions, or any of them, shall express, utter, or declare, by publishing any printing or writing or by any overt act or deed, every person so offending shall be guilty of felony, and being convicted thereof shall be liable to be transported beyond the seas for the term or his or her natural life.”  (Section 3 of the Treason Felony Act 1848)

With the proviso that the reference to transportation was subsequently amended to mean “imprisonment for life or any shorter term” this law, dating from the early years of Queen Victoria’s reign, is still in force.

Concerned that a campaign by the Guardian in 2000 seeking to replace the monarchy with a republic might fall foul of the 1848 law, the paper’s then editor mounted a legal challenge which sought to achieve clarity. Sadly, the law lords gave it short shrift. They all agreed that the 1848 Act was obsolete, though it was for Parliament not the courts to tidy up the statute book. The Human Rights Act 1998 put the matter beyond sensible debate. As Lord Steyn said in his judgement: “Any suggestion that a total legislative ban on republican discourse in print could be compatible with article 10 [of the European Convention on Human Rights] would stretch judicial gullibility to breaking point.”  

The latest so-called Conservative government includes a Home Secretary who is on record as wanting not only to repeal the Human Rights Act but for the UK to withdraw from acceptance of the European Convention itself.  Although such a move does not seem to be a priority at present, it is of course an interesting and moot point as to whether such action would remove the practical ineffectiveness of the 1848 Act, thus putting at risk of prosecution anyone who argues in favour of replacing the UK’s current arrangements for its head of state.

Or will Parliament take the opportunity to repeal what remains of the 1848 Act? Whatever our politicians may say in public, surely some of them fancy being the first elected president of the United Kingdom?