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Reading the Riot Act


The Riot Act 1714 (1 Geo.1 St.2 c.5) was an act of the Parliament of Great Britain which authorized authorities to declare any group of ≥12 people to be unlawfully assembled and to disperse or face punitive action. The phrase itself has passed into common usage for a stern reprimand or warning of consequences.

Anytime I draft a letter of demand, this is what I am doing. I draw a figurative line in the sand and warn of the consequences imposed under the law. To humbly request a group of 12 to disperse will not suffice. In order to effectively read the Riot Act to someone, they must know and understand that the Riot Act empowers you to use violent means to disperse their gathering. You must cultivate the vision of legal violence in the imagination of your adversary in order to avoid using it. One does not “Read the Riot Act” meekly – that would serve no purpose.

The Act created the procedural mechanism to make a proclamation ordering the dispersal of any group of more than twelve people who were “unlawfully, riotously, and tumultuously assembled together”. If the group failed to disperse within one hour, then anyone remaining gathered was guilty of a felony punishable by death. The proclamation had to be read out by a local official to the gathering and had to follow precise wording as follows:

“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 tumults and riotous assemblies. God save the King.”

Reading the act started the one-hour clock. If you remain unmoved after an hour, it would be on “like donkey kong.”

Need help reading someone the Riot Act?