Unlawful assembly

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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 an act of disturbance, it is termed a rout; if the disturbance is commenced, it is then termed a riot. In England, the offence was abolished in 1986, but it exists in other countries.



A definition of the offence of unlawful assembly appears in the Criminal Code Bill first prepared by Sir James Fitzjames Stephens in 1878 for the English Parliament. [1] Many jurisdictions have used this bill as a basis for their own codification of the criminal law.


In Australia, in Victoria it is an offense for a person to participate in an unlawful assembly, or to fail to disperse upon request. [2] The maximum punishment is imprisonment for one year. [3]


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. [4] [5] [6] It also gives the magistracy the power to issue order absolute at once in urgent cases of nuisance or apprehended danger. [7] With the introduction of Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) in 1976, Section 144 has ceased to operate in the metropolitan jurisdiction in Bangladesh. [8]


Under Part II of the Canadian Criminal Code (Offences Against Public Order),"An unlawful assembly is an assembly of three or more persons who, with intent to carry out any common purpose, assemble in such a manner or so conduct themselves when they are assembled as to cause persons in the neighborhood of the assembly to fear, on reasonable grounds, that they (a) will disturb the peace tumultuously; or (b) will by that assembly needlessly and without reasonable cause provoke other persons to disturb the peace tumultuously." [9]


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, [lower-alpha 1] 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. [lower-alpha 2]

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 that, 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. [lower-alpha 3] All people may, and must if called upon to do so, assist in dispersing an unlawful assembly. [lower-alpha 4] An assembly which was lawful could not be rendered unlawful by (court) proclamation unless it were one authorized by statute. [lower-alpha 5]

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. [lower-alpha 6]

An unlawful assembly which had made a motion towards its common purpose was termed a rout, if it carried out all or part of its end purpose, e.g., beginning to demolish an enclosure, it became a riot. All three offences were misdemeanours in English law, punishable by fine and imprisonment. The first of these three offenses 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. [10]

Hong Kong

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) [11] and imprisonment for three years (on summary conviction). [12]


Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) of 1973 empowers an executive magistrate to issue orders in urgent cases of nuisance or apprehended danger. Though the scope of Section 144 is wider, it is often used to prohibit assembly of one or more persons when unrest is anticipated. Section 129 of the CrPC grants Executive Magistrates and Police officers in charge of a police station and above the power to order dispersal of, disperse and cause to be dispersed any unlawful assembly. Section 130 authorizes an Executive Magistrate to obtain the aid of the Armed Forces to disperse any such assembly, and Section 131 grants any Gazetted Officer of the Armed Forces the power to use his troops to disperse a manifestly dangerous assembly even without command from a Magistrate (he must, however, contact an Executive Magistrate as soon as possible and then follow his instructions while taking any further actions).

The definition of 'unlawful assembly', according to Indian law, is laid down in Section 141 of the Indian Penal Code. According to this section, an assembly of five or more persons becomes unlawful when its purpose is or becomes:

  1. To overawe by criminal force, or show of criminal force, the Central or any State Government or Parliament or the Legislature of any State, or any public servant in the exercise of the lawful power of such public servant;
  2. To resist the execution of any law, or of any legal process;
  3. To commit any mischief or criminal trespass, or other offence;
  4. By means of criminal force, or show of criminal force, to any person, to take or obtain possession of any property, or to deprive any person of the enjoyment of a right of way, or of the use of water or other incorporeal right of which he is in possession or enjoyment, or to enforce any right or supposed right;
  5. By means of criminal force, or show of criminal force, to compel any person to do what he is not legally bound to do, or to omit to do what he is legally entitled to do.

Section 146 defines 'rioting' is defined as the offence every member of an unlawful assembly commits, when that assembly or any member of such assembly uses force or violence in pursuit of their common intent.

According to Sections 141-149 of the 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. [13]

In about 1861, [14] 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. [15]

Northern Ireland

The offence of unlawful assembly in Northern Ireland applies if a person is a member of an assembly of three or more persons which is either causing a disturbance or giving rise to a reasonable apprehension of a breach of the peace. [16]

United States

In New York State in the United States, a person is guilty of unlawful assembly when he "assembles with four or more other persons for the purpose of engaging or preparing to engage with them in tumultuous and violent conduct likely to cause public alarm, or when, being present at an assembly which either has or develops such purpose, he remains there with intent to advance that purpose." [17]

See also


  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

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  1. Report on the Criminal Code (as Reported from the Joint Statutes Revision Committee.) (PDF). Wellington: New Zealand House Of Representatives. 17 August 1883. Retrieved 1 March 2021.
  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. Wikisource-logo.svg One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain : Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Assembly, Unlawful". Encyclopædia Britannica . 1 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 779.
  8. "Criminal Procedure Ordinance Levels of Fines for offences" . Retrieved 19 January 2015.
  9. "Cap. 245 Public Order Ordinance - Hong Kong e-Legislation". www.elegislation.gov.hk. Retrieved 2020-07-06.
  10. "Section 144 in The Code Of Criminal Procedure, 1973" . Retrieved 2014-03-01.
  11. Chowdhury, Shovon (3 January 2013). "KNOW YOUR LAWS : CrPC, Section 144, 'Prohibition of Assembly'". India Update. Retrieved 6 August 2016.
  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