Treason act clause repealed after 165 years

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A 165-year-old law that threatened to jail for life anyone who has called for the abolition of the monarchy in print has been repealed.

The controversial section three of the Treason Felony Act 1848, which had not been used since 1879, even made it an offence punishable by life imprisonment to “imagine” overthrowing the Crown or waging war against the Queen.

The section was one of 309 offences removed from the statute book in the year to May, the Ministry of Justice revealed.

Graham Smith, chief executive of Republic, which campaigns for a democratic alternative to the monarchy, said: “This is a law that should never have been put on the statute books, that should have been repealed decades ago. Although it has had no legal force for some time it is good to finally see it scrapped.

“Of course the republican campaign has been growing fast over recent years and this law has never been an obstacle – we have repeatedly publicly and unequivocally called for the abolition of the monarchy without any legal threat.

“We must be one of the last countries in Europe that has until this year had a law on the books that banned advocacy of greater democracy.

“If only for symbolic reasons, we have long called for the repeal of this law and we are pleased that Parliament now formally acknowledges that republicanism is a legitimate and mainstream point of view.”

The section of the Act was challenged in the High Court in 2001 by The Guardian, which claimed the Act violated article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees the right to free speech. The case was the first to be brought purely under the Human Rights Act which, then, had been in force for just four months.

The challenge came after the paper’s editor Alan Rusbridger was unable to gain official reassurance that a campaign calling for a referendum on the future of the monarchy would not lead to prosecutions under the Act.

The relevant section states that any person who “shall express, utter, or declare, by publishing any printing or writing”, support for depriving the Queen of her crown faces life imprisonment.