Ian’s Legal Fact of the Week 3/21/16: Reading the Riot Act

‘To read the riot act’– meaning to warn someone that their current actions will not be tolerated — has its origins in an actual legislative enactment. Formally entitled An Act for preventing Tumults and riotous Assemblies, and for the more speedy and effectual punishing the Rioters (U.K. 1715), but known more generally as The Riot Act, it was passed in response to widespread social unrest after the death of the last Stuart monarch of the U.K., Queen Anne. The statute had a procedural safeguard built into it, whereby no one could be prosecuted for violating it unless they remained on the scene of the riot for at least an hour after the Act was read to them in warning. It was repealed in 1973 but continues to live on as a popular idiomatic expression.


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