Unlawful assembly

Unlawful assembly is a legal term to describe a group of people with the mutual intent of deliberate disturbance of the peace. If the group is about to start the act of disturbance, it is termed a rout; if the disturbance is commenced, it is then termed a riot. In Britain, the offence was abolished in 1986.

United Kingdom[edit]

By the 19th century, unlawful assembly, a term used in English law described a gathering of three or more people with intent to commit a crime by force, or to carry out a common purpose (whether lawful or unlawful), in such a manner or in such circumstances as would in the opinion of firm and rational men endanger the public peace or create fear of immediate danger to the tranquillity of the neighborhood.[citation needed] A reform commission in 1879 believed that what underlay the first on-point legislation of 1328,[a] outlining when such a crime was recognised nationally (still to adjudged by or via a justice of the peace) was certain landed proprietors at loggerheads employing a band of violent armed retainers, above the traditional manorial bailiffs.[b]

In the Year Book, a legal text, of the third year of Henry VII's reign, assemblies were expressed as not punishable unless in terrorem: populi domini regis, a threat to the people, God or the King.

In 1882 it was ruled, on balance, an unlawful assembly would need to be more than participants knowing beforehand of likely formal opposition and the mere prospect of a breach of the peace; by this date a quiltwork of cases had identified certain rights to orderly, lawful protest.[c] All people may, and must if called upon to do so, assist in dispersing an unlawful assembly.[d] An assembly which was lawful could not be rendered unlawful by (court) proclamation unless it were one authorized by statute.[e]

Cementing the English Bill of Rights 1689 banning private armies, meetings for training or drilling, or military movements, were from 1820 unlawful assemblies unless held under lawful authority from the Crown, the Lord-lieutenant, or two justices of the peace.[f]

An unlawful assembly which has made a motion towards its common purpose was termed a rout, if it carried out all or part of its end purpose, e.g. begin to demolish an enclosure, it became a riot. All three offences were misdemeanors in English law, punishable by fine and imprisonment. The first of these three offences (listed) was abolished by the Public Order Act 1986 for two parts of the UK, the most recent major reform of public order offences, the other two parts having similar legislation.

The common law as to unlawful assembly extended to Ireland, subject to special legislation. The law of Scotland included unlawful assembly under the same head as rioting.[1]


Section 144 is a section of the Code of Criminal Procedure, which prohibits assembly of five or more people, holding of public meetings, and carrying of firearms and can be invoked for up to two months.[2][3][4] It also gives the magistracy the power to issue order absolute at once in urgent cases of nuisance or apprehended danger.[5] With the introduction of Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) in 1976, Section 144 has ceased to operate in the metropolitan jurisdiction in Bangladesh.[6]


Under Part II of the Canadian Criminal Code (Offences Against Public Order), Unlawful Assemblies and Riots is when the assembly of three or more people who cause fear and on reasonable grounds disturb peace in the neighborhood is against the law.

Hong Kong[edit]

The Public Order Ordinance (chapter 245 of the laws of Hong Kong) defines "unlawful assembly" (§18) as an assembly of three or more people conducting themselves in a "disorderly, intimidating, insulting or provocative manner intended or likely to cause a person reasonably to fear that the people so assembled will conduct a breach of the peace or will by such conduct provoke other persons to commit a breach of the peace". people taking part in unlawful assemblies can be punished with up to five years' imprisonment (if indicted) or a level 2 fine (HK$5000)[7] and imprisonment for two years (on summary conviction).[8]


Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) of 1973 empowers an executive magistrate to prohibit an assembly of more than four people in an area. According to 141-149 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), the maximum punishment for engaging in rioting is rigorous imprisonment for 3 years and/or fine. Every member of an unlawful assembly can be held responsible for a crime committed by the group. Obstructing an officer trying to disperse an unlawful assembly may attract further punishment.[9]

In about 1861,[10] Officer Raj-Ratna E.F. Deboo IPS was the designer and architect of section 144, which reduced overall crime in that time in the state of Baroda. He was recognized for his initiative and awarded a gold medal by the Maharaja Gaekwad of Baroda for putting Section 144 in place and reducing overall crime.[11][12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Criminal Code Commission, 1879
  2. ^ Statute of Northampton, 1328, 2 Edw. III. c. 3
  3. ^ Beatty v. Gillbanks, 1882, 9 Q. B. D. 308
  4. ^ Redford v. Birley, 1822, 1 St. Tr. n.s. 1215; R. v. Pinney, 1831, 3 St. Tr. n.s. 11
  5. ^ R. v. Fursey, 1833, 3 St. Tr. n.s. 543, 567; R. v. O'Connell, 1831, 2 St. Tr. n.s. 629, 656; see also the Prevention of Crimes [Ireland] Act 1887
  6. ^ Unlawful Drilling Act 1820, s. 11


  1. ^  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Assembly, Unlawful". Encyclopædia Britannica. 1 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 779.
  2. ^ Bangladesh Criminal Justice Based on the Country Studies Series by Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress
  3. ^ Code of Criminal Procedure: Issue Paper on Bangladesh State Protection Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada. Retrieved: July 01, 2007.
  4. ^ Pakistan Code of Criminal Procedure, Section 144
  5. ^ Role of Criminal Law in the protection of the Environment:Bangladesh context Asian Crime Prevention Foundation. Retrieved: July 01, 2007.
  6. ^ Dhaka siege: Some unanswered questions The New Age. Retrieved: July 01, 2007.
  7. ^ "Criminal Procedure Ordinance Levels of Fines for offences". Retrieved 19 January 2015.
  8. ^ http://www.legislation.gov.hk/blis_pdf.nsf/6799165D2FEE3FA94825755E0033E532/14B03C325D4C1827482575EE0052311E/$FILE/CAP_245_e_b5.pdf
  9. ^ "Section 144 in The Code Of Criminal Procedure, 1973". Retrieved 2014-03-01.
  10. ^ Chowdhury, Shovon (3 January 2013). "KNOW YOUR LAWS : CrPC, Section 144, 'Prohibition of Assembly'". India Update. Retrieved 6 August 2016.
  11. ^ "Section 144 – Warangal, India to Dayton, USA connection". www.manatelanganaa.in. Retrieved 2016-06-09.
  12. ^ "Section 144 – Warangal, India to Dayton, USA connection". www.manatelanganaa.in. Retrieved 2016-06-09.

See also: http://law.jrank.org/pages/11014/Unlawful-Assembly.html