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Report No. 43

10.4. Limitation as to treason in England Statute of 1695.-

In England, an indictment for high treason within the realm (with the exception of treason by designing, endeavouring or attempting any assassination on the body of the Queen by poison or otherwise) must be signed within three years after the offence is committed1.

An "information" for Blasphemy by words spoken must be filed within four days of the speaking, and the prosecution must be within three months of the information2.

A prosecution for an offence under the Unlawful Frilling Act, 1819, must be commence3 within six calendar months after the offence committed4.

No particular explanation is given by Stephen5 as to the reason for passing the 1695 Act, which introduced the provisions relating to limitation for treason; he makes just a brief reference to it. Maitland, in his Constitutional History6, refers to this Act, and points out how the Act made a number of exceptions from the general law in favour of persons accused of treason. But he does not deal with the historical reason for the particular provision relating to limitation.

But the background of the 1695 Act in general can be gathered from what Kenny states in his Criminal LaW7:-

"As treason was, of all crimes, that in which the Crown had the strongest direct interest in securing the conviction of an accused person, it was the one in which a public prosecutor or a subservient judge had most temptation to conduct the trial so as to press harshly upon the prisoner. The reigns of the Stuarts afforded so many instances of this harshness that after the Revolution of 1688, the legislature in 1695 introduced great innovations into the course of criminal procedure so far as trials for treason were concerned."

Though British jurisprudence does not recognise the applicability of the law of limitation to crimes in general, nevertheless, its special application to the crime of treason was presumably made with a view to preventing political victimisation.

1. Treason Act, 1695 (7 & 8 Will 3, c. 3) sections 5 and 6.

2. Section, 2, Blasphemy Act, 1697.

3. Section 7, Unlawful Frilling Act, 1819.

4. The discussion is illustrative only. Provisions as to the time-limits for prosecutions are contained in several other Statutes.

5. Stephen History of Criminal Law, Vol. 1, pp. 415-416.

6. Maitland Constitutional History, (1946), p. 314.

7. Kenny Criminal Law, (1966), p. 403.

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