Contempt of the sovereign


Contempt of the Sovereign (also called contempt of statute) was an ancient doctrine in English law dating from medieval times, and now obsolete. It referred to the notion that if somebody disobeyed an Act of Parliament, but the Act did not say what the penalty was or how the Act was to be enforced, then that person was guilty of a criminal offence under common law (although the crime itself was not called contempt). This doctrine was based on the idea that an Act of Parliament was an expression of the Sovereign's will, enacted with the "advice and consent" of Parliament. In modern legislation and jurisprudence it has become the rule that contravening a statute is not a crime unless the statute expressly says so in clear terms, and so the doctrine has long since lapsed. However the law does still exist, and the last time it was used was in 1840.[1]

Contempt of the Sovereign is not to be confused with lèse majesté.


  1. ^ Halsbury's Laws of England, 5th edition, volume 25, paragraph 362

Further reading

  • Hawkins, Treatise of the Pleas of the Crown 8th edn (n 42) vol 1, 61; also vol 1, chs 21–24 of the 1st edn in 1716.
  • McBain GS, “Abolishing some Obsolete Common Law Crimes” [2009] King’s LJ 89, 102