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Sedition Act 1661

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The Sedition Act 1661 13 Car 2 St 1 c 1 was an Act of the Parliament of England, although it was extended to Scotland in 1708 Passed shortly after the Restoration of Charles II, it is no longer in force, but some of its provisions continue to survive today in the Treason Act 1695 and the Treason Felony Act 1848 One clause which was included in the Treason Act 1695 was later adapted for the United States Constitution


  • 1 Two witnesses rule
  • 2 New offences
    • 21 Treason
    • 22 Other offences
  • 3 Other provisions
  • 4 Repeal
  • 5 See also
  • 6 References
  • 7 External links

Two witnesses rule

Main articles: Treason Act 1695 and Article Three of the United States Constitution

The most important feature of the Act was that it reintroduced a significant new rule of evidence in high treason trials, namely that nobody could be convicted of treason except by the evidence of "two lawful and credible witnesses upon oath brought in person before him or them face to face," or if he confessed "willingly without violence" This rule had previously been enacted in section 22 of the Treason Act 1547, and again in section XI of the Treason Act 1554, which however differed from the other versions by only requiring the witnesses "if living and within the realm" This clause of the 1661 Act, section 5, was replaced by the Treason Act 1695, which added that the two witnesses had to have witnessed the same offence although not necessarily the same "overt act" of the offence The rule was inherited by the United States and was incorporated into the US Constitution in 1787, which added that both witnesses had to have witnessed the same overt act Section 5 of the 1661 Act was cited by US Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia in his judgement in Crawford v Washington, a case about the "Confrontation Clause" of the Sixth Amendment

The 1661 version of this rule only applied to the new forms of treason and other offences which were created by the 1661 Act see the New offences section below The 1695 Act applied to all forms of high treason, except counterfeiting coins

The rule was abolished in the United Kingdom by the Treason Act 1945, which made the rules of evidence and procedure in treason cases the same as in a murder trial During the passage of the Treason Bill through Parliament the Home Secretary, Sir Donald Somervell, said:

It is, presumably, based on the idea that one witness may be unreliable, whereas, on the other hand, if you allege two overt acts, and if you have one witness of each, then the two unreliabilities are taken as adding up to a sufficient certainty It was very much criticised from the moment it was enacted

New offences


The Act created four new kinds of high treason, in addition to those already existing The Act made it treason to:

…within the realm, or without, compass, imagine, invent, devise or intend death or destruction or any bodily harm tending to death or destruction, maim or wounding, imprisonment or restraint of the person of the King

or, "…within the realm or without, compass, imagine, invent, devise or intend":

  • to deprive the King of his crown
  • to levy war against the King, "within this realm, or without"
  • to "move or stir" any foreigner to invade England or any other country belonging to the King this latter clause was derived from the Rump Parliament's Treasons Act 1649, which had been repealed in 1660

These provisions were expressed only to have effect during the lifetime of the King, Charles II However they were temporarily re-enacted, with two modifications, by the Treason Act 1795, and then made permanent by the Treason Act 1817 In the 1795 version, "the realm" meant Great Britain in 1848 the Act was extended to cover Ireland, and levying war against the King was only an offence under the Act if done in order to compel the King to change his policies or to "intimidate or overawe" Parliament However under the Treason Act 1351, which was not affected, levying war against the King was still treason, without these additional criteria

The difference between the Treason Act 1351 and the Acts of 1661 and 1795 was that while the 1351 Act required an actual levying of war, the later Acts also made it treason to "compass, imagine, invent, devise, or intend" a levying of war

The penalty for treason was death However the last three treasons on the above list were reduced to felonies by the Treason Felony Act 1848, which made the maximum sentence life imprisonment The 1848 Act is still in force see article for a fuller quote from the text Imprisoning or otherwise harming the Sovereign continued to be high treason, punishable by death, until the 1795 Act was repealed by the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 However assaulting the Sovereign is still an offence under the Treason Act 1842, which carries a maximum sentence of seven years

In some Commonwealth of Nations countries, such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand it is still treason to imprison or harm the Queen

Other offences

Besides treason, the 1661 Act created other offences designed to protect the national security These offences required the evidence of two witnesses or a confession, and had to be prosecuted within six months of the offence being committed The king had to personally authorise a prosecution

Anyone who in speech or writing called the King a heretic or papist, or who incited "hatred or dislike of the Person of His Majestie or the established Government" was to be disqualified from holding any public, military or ecclesiastical office but could keep his peerage This measure was expressed only to last during the King's lifetime

A permanent offence until it was repealed was committed by any person who claimed in writing or in speech that the Long Parliament had not been dissolved, or that anyone had a duty to obey an oath to change the government, or that Parliament could legislate without the king's assent

Other provisions

The Act declared that the Solemn League and Covenant was null and void It also preserved Parliament's privilege of free speech, and the right of a peer to be tried in the House of Lords

A peer who was convicted of any offence under the Act was to be disqualified from sitting in the House of Lords, unless pardoned although he would keep his title


Sections 1 and 2 were repealed on 28 January 1863 by section 1 of, and the Schedule to, the Statute Law Revision Act 1863

The words of enactment those from "and be it" to "enacted" in sections 5, 6 and 7 were repealed by section 11 of, and Part I of the Schedule to, the Statute Law Revision Act 1888

In section 7, the words "that no peer of this realm shall be tried for any offence against this Act but by his peers, and further" were repealed for Scotland and Northern Ireland by sections 81, 82, and 833 of, and Part III of Schedule 10 to, the Criminal Justice Act 1948

The first schedule to the Statute Law Revision Act 1948 repealed the following words:

  • In the preamble, the words from "and remembering" to "Her Majesties person"
  • In section 3, the words from "at any time after" to "sixty and one", and the words from "Provided nevertheless" to the end
  • In section 4, the words from "other then" to "high treason"
  • In section 5, the words "treasons or" and "treason or"

The whole Act, so far as unrepealed, was repealed by section 13 of, and Part I of Schedule 4 to, the Criminal Law Act 1967

See also

  • Tumultuous Petitioning Act 1661
  • High treason in the United Kingdom
  • Treason Act
  • Sedition Act disambiguation


  1. ^ The citation of this Act by this short title was authorised by section 5 of, and Schedule 2 to, the Statute Law Revision Act 1948 Due to the repeal of those provisions, it is now authorised by section 192 of the Interpretation Act 1978
  2. ^ These words are printed against this Act in the second column of Schedule 2 to the Statute Law Revision Act 1948, which is headed "Title"
  3. ^ 7 Ann c 21
  4. ^ Sections 2 and 4
  5. ^ Article III, section 3
  6. ^ Crawford v Washington, 541 US 36 2004, pdf file, page 10
  7. ^ 9 Geo VI c 44
  8. ^ Hansard, 11 June 1945
  9. ^ 36 Geo 3 c 7
  10. ^ Treason Felony Act 1848, section 2 repealed
  11. ^ The Law Commission 1977 Treason, Sedition and Allied Offences Working Paper No72, page 12, footnote 39BAILII pdf file
  12. ^ Canadian Criminal Code, section 46
  13. ^ Australian Criminal Code
  14. ^ Crimes Act 1961, section 73

External links

  • The Sedition Act 1661 as enacted, John Raithby, The Statutes of the Realm, vol 5, pp 304 – 306 from British History Online
  • The Treason Act 1795 at the time of its repeal in 1998, from the UK Statute Law Database

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