Breach of the peace
Breach of the peace is a legal term used in constitutional law
Constitutional law
Constitutional law is the body of law which defines the relationship of different entities within a state, namely, the executive, the legislature and the judiciary....

 in English-speaking countries, and in a wider public order sense in Britain.

Constitutional law

In the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

, the Speech or Debate Clause
Speech or Debate Clause
The Speech or Debate Clause is a clause in the United States Constitution . The clause states that members of both Houses of Congress...

 of Article One of the United States Constitution
Article One of the United States Constitution
Article One of the United States Constitution describes the powers of Congress, the legislative branch of the federal government. The Article establishes the powers of and limitations on the Congress, consisting of a House of Representatives composed of Representatives, with each state gaining or...

 provides that members of Congress shall be immune
Parliamentary immunity
Parliamentary immunity, also known as legislative immunity, is a system in which members of the parliament or legislature are granted partial immunity from prosecution. Before prosecuting, it is necessary that the immunity be removed, usually by a superior court of justice or by the parliament itself...

 from arrest
An arrest is the act of depriving a person of his or her liberty usually in relation to the purported investigation and prevention of crime and presenting into the criminal justice system or harm to oneself or others...

 in going to and departing from sessions and while Congress is in session except for cases of "Treason
In law, treason is the crime that covers some of the more extreme acts against one's sovereign or nation. Historically, treason also covered the murder of specific social superiors, such as the murder of a husband by his wife. Treason against the king was known as high treason and treason against a...

, Felony
A felony is a serious crime in the common law countries. The term originates from English common law where felonies were originally crimes which involved the confiscation of a convicted person's land and goods; other crimes were called misdemeanors...

, and Breach of the Peace."

The first two are somewhat self-explanatory; it has been suggested that the third is deliberately somewhat vague. The doctrine
Doctrine is a codification of beliefs or a body of teachings or instructions, taught principles or positions, as the body of teachings in a branch of knowledge or belief system...

 thus established is called congressional immunity; it arose out of the necessity to prevent a vengeful executive
Executive (government)
Executive branch of Government is the part of government that has sole authority and responsibility for the daily administration of the state bureaucracy. The division of power into separate branches of government is central to the idea of the separation of powers.In many countries, the term...

 from arresting members of the legislature
A legislature is a kind of deliberative assembly with the power to pass, amend, and repeal laws. The law created by a legislature is called legislation or statutory law. In addition to enacting laws, legislatures usually have exclusive authority to raise or lower taxes and adopt the budget and...

 under a pretext to prevent them from taking actions that the executive might find to be displeasing. In recent years, this doctrine has been used to prevent members from being stopped and held for speeding
Speed limit
Road speed limits are used in most countries to regulate the speed of road vehicles. Speed limits may define maximum , minimum or no speed limit and are normally indicated using a traffic sign...

 on their way to sessions; this apparently is not a "breach of the peace", whereas perhaps another misdemeanor
A misdemeanor is a "lesser" criminal act in many common law legal systems. Misdemeanors are generally punished much less severely than felonies, but theoretically more so than administrative infractions and regulatory offences...

 such as "drunk
Public intoxication
Public intoxication, also known as "drunk and disorderly", is a summary offense in many countries rated to public cases or displays of drunkenness...

 and disorderly
Disorderly conduct
Disorderly conduct is a criminal charge in most jurisdictions in the United States. Typically, disorderly conduct makes it a crime to be drunk in public, to "disturb the peace", or to loiter in certain areas. Many types of unruly conduct may fit the definition of disorderly conduct, as such...

" might be construed to be such.

Most states of the United States and most other English
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

-speaking jurisdictions have extended this privilege to members of their legislatures on the theory outlined above.

England and Wales

In England and Wales, theoretically all criminal offences cognizable by English law involve "a breach of the Queen's peace
Queen's peace
The Queen's peace is the term used in the Commonwealth realms to describe the protection the monarch, in right of each state, provides to his or her subjects...

", and all indictments formerly concluded "against the peace of our Lady the Queen, her crown and dignity" before the passage of the Indictments Act 1915
Indictments Act 1915
The Indictments Act 1915 was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that made significant changes to the law relating to indictments. The law relating to indictments evolved during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and became lengthy, confusing and highly technical to the point...

 and the Rules that formed that Act's first schedule . The conclusion has also found its way into constitutional law in many United States state constitution
State constitution (United States)
In the United States, each state has its own constitution.Usually, they are longer than the 7,500-word federal Constitution and are more detailed regarding the day-to-day relationships between government and the people. The shortest is the Constitution of Vermont, adopted in 1793 and currently...

s, which mandate that indictments within the state end in a similar manner to the above, usually omitting the "crown" part or substituting "government". For example, New Jersey
New Jersey
New Jersey is a state in the Northeastern and Middle Atlantic regions of the United States. , its population was 8,791,894. It is bordered on the north and east by the state of New York, on the southeast and south by the Atlantic Ocean, on the west by Pennsylvania and on the southwest by Delaware...

's is "against the peace of this State, the government and dignity of the same".

Historically that concluding phrase, now legally superfluous, represents the last trace of the process by which the royal court
A court is a form of tribunal, often a governmental institution, with the authority to adjudicate legal disputes between parties and carry out the administration of justice in civil, criminal, and administrative matters in accordance with the rule of law...

s assume jurisdiction over all offences, and gradually eroded the jurisdiction of the sheriff
A sheriff is in principle a legal official with responsibility for a county. In practice, the specific combination of legal, political, and ceremonial duties of a sheriff varies greatly from country to country....

 and of lords of manor
Lord of the Manor
The Lordship of a Manor is recognised today in England and Wales as a form of property and one of three elements of a manor that may exist separately or be combined and may be held in moieties...

 and franchise
Exclusive right
In Anglo-Saxon law, an exclusive right is a de facto, non-tangible prerogative existing in law to perform an action or acquire a benefit and to permit or deny others the right to perform the same action or to acquire the same benefit. A "prerogative" is in effect an exclusive right...

s, making crime a matter of national concern as distinguished from civil wrongs
A tort, in common law jurisdictions, is a wrong that involves a breach of a civil duty owed to someone else. It is differentiated from a crime, which involves a breach of a duty owed to society in general...

 or infractions of the rights of local magnates. The Peace of the King was sworn on his accession or full recognition, and the jurisdiction of his courts to punish all violations of that peace was gradually asserted. The completion of this process is marked by the institution of the office of Justice of the Peace
Justice of the Peace
A justice of the peace is a puisne judicial officer elected or appointed by means of a commission to keep the peace. Depending on the jurisdiction, they might dispense summary justice or merely deal with local administrative applications in common law jurisdictions...


In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, breach of the peace is descended from the 1361 Justices of the Peace act,, which refers to riotous and Barratory behavior that disturbs the peace of the King. More modern authority defines a breach of the peace as existing whether harm is actually done, or is likely to be done, to a person or his property, or a person is in fear of being harmed through an assault, an affray, a riot, an unlawful assembley, or some other form of disturbance .

The power to arrest for a breach of the Peace is usually used to remove violent, potentially violent or provocative offenders (it is not necessary for the offender himself to be physically involved in any violence) from a scene rapidly, in Bibby V Chief Constable of Essex it was also used when a person in the opinion of a Constable was likely to be the victim of a breach of the peace or an act of violence..

In England and Wales, breach of the peace is not an offence, in the sense that it is not punishable either by a fine or imprisonment either at statute or common law
Common law
Common law is law developed by judges through decisions of courts and similar tribunals rather than through legislative statutes or executive branch action...

 and nor do proceedings for breach of the peace give rise to any conviction . In England and Wales, constables (or citizens) are permitted to arrest a person to "prevent a further breach of the peace" which allows for the police or the public to arrest a person before a breach of the peace has occurred. This is permitted when it is reasonable to believe should the person remain, that they would continue with their course of conduct and that a Breach of the Peace would occur .

The only immediate sanction that can be imposed by a court for breach of the peace is to bind over
Bind over
Bind over, binding over order or bind over for sentence is a legal term relating to a power exercised by magistrates in England and Wales and in other common law jurisdictions such as Hong Kong....

 the offender to keep the peace: that is, justices of the peace can require a person to enter into a recognizance to keep the peace. Any punishment (in the sense of a loss of freedom or permanent financial penalty) takes the form of loss of the surety if the defendant fails to keep the peace or be of good behaviour during the period for which he is bound over. The binding over itself does not amount to a conviction (but any following behaviour causing loss of the surety might well result in conviction for an associated offence). A failure to enter into a recognizance may of itself lead to a person being committed to custody under s.115(3) Magistrates Court Act 1980.


There are major differences between English law
English law
English law is the legal system of England and Wales, and is the basis of common law legal systems used in most Commonwealth countries and the United States except Louisiana...

 and Scots law
Scots law
Scots law is the legal system of Scotland. It is considered a hybrid or mixed legal system as it traces its roots to a number of different historical sources. With English law and Northern Irish law it forms the legal system of the United Kingdom; it shares with the two other systems some...

 with respect to dealing with breach of the peace; unlike England and Wales where criminal penalties apply to the behaviour leading to or liable to cause a breach of the peace, it is a specific criminal offence in Scotland which is prosecuted daily in the Sheriff Courts and due to its common law definition it can be applied to a number of scenarios. The maximum punishment if a case is remitted to the High Court is imprisonment for life (as of 2002 ).

The Scots Law definition of a breach of the peace is
"conduct severe enough to cause alarm to ordinary people and threaten serious disturbance to the community."

A constable may arrest any person, without warrant, who commits a breach of the peace. A member of the public may not arrest a person for behaviour which amounts to no more than a breach of the peace (i.e. an arrest is not always for the offence for which someone is eventually prosecuted but can be for a more serious crime that appears to be occurring).

Breach of the peace can include, but is not limited to, any riotous behavious (which includes 'rowdiness' or 'brawling') and any disorderly behaviour. This behaviour doesn't have to be noisy but still of a nature that would cause concern to other people. Examples include 'Peeping Tom
Peeping Tom
Peeping Tom is a nickname commonly given to voyeurs, particularly males. It originated with the legend of Lady Godiva, when a man named Tom watched her during her nude ride and was struck blind or dead.It may also refer to:In music...

'-type behaviour, persistently following someone, delivering 'threatening' letters and 'streaking
Streaking is the act of running nude through a public place.-History:On 5 July 1799, a Friday evening at 7 o'clock, a naked man was arrested at the Mansion House, London, and sent to the Poultry Compter...

' or 'mooning
Mooning is the act of displaying one's bare buttocks by removing clothing, e.g., by lowering the backside of one's trousers and underpants, usually bending over, whether also exposing the genitals or not...


To prove a Breach of the Peace the most important things to prove is that someone was Alarmed, Annoyed or Disturbed by the incident.

This offence can take place anywhere i.e. a house, a public street, a private office or any public space.

One of the leading cases in Scots Law
Scots law
Scots law is the legal system of Scotland. It is considered a hybrid or mixed legal system as it traces its roots to a number of different historical sources. With English law and Northern Irish law it forms the legal system of the United Kingdom; it shares with the two other systems some...

 is that of Smith v Donnelly, a case concerning a Faslane protester.

See also

  • Constitutionalism
    Constitutionalism has a variety of meanings. Most generally, it is "a complex of ideas, attitudes, and patterns of behavior elaborating the principle that the authority of government derives from and is limited by a body of fundamental law"....

  • Constitutional economics
    Constitutional economics
    Constitutional economics is a research program in economics and constitutionalism that has been described as extending beyond the definition of 'the economic analysis of constitutional law' in explaining the choice "of alternative sets of legal-institutional-constitutional rules that constrain the...

  • Rule according to higher law
    Rule according to higher law
    The rule according to a higher law means that no written law may be enforced by the government unless it conforms with certain unwritten, universal principles of fairness, morality, and justice...

  • Disturbing the peace
    Disturbing the Peace
    Disturbing the Peace is the second studio album by Alcatrazz, and is the only one featuring Steve Vai on guitar. One of the singles, God Blessed Video, can be found on the fictional radio station, V-Rock, on Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. Weeks on Chart: 7, Peak: #133...

  • Disorderly conduct
    Disorderly conduct
    Disorderly conduct is a criminal charge in most jurisdictions in the United States. Typically, disorderly conduct makes it a crime to be drunk in public, to "disturb the peace", or to loiter in certain areas. Many types of unruly conduct may fit the definition of disorderly conduct, as such...

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