Treason, Does the crime still exist?
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12 May 2012
Dear Ministry of Justice,
I have been unable to find sufficient literature in respect to the
crime of treason against our sovereign nation and wondered if you
could help clarify the following points.
I was wondering which act of parliament or charter outlines the
definition of treason and the act/charter which outlines that
More so if you could provide the current punishment if one was to
be convicted of treason, and if that punishment has been changed
within the last 50 years I would be very grateful? Could you also
provided the relevant information associated to that change in law
From: Data Access & Compliance Unit
Ministry of Justice
14 May 2012
Thank you for your e-mail, I am writing to advise you that your enquiry does not fall under the Freedom of Information regime and will be treated by the department as Official Correspondence.
It may be helpful if I explain that the Freedom of Information Act (2000) gives individuals and organisations the right of access to all types of recorded information held, at the time the request is received, by public authorities such as the Ministry of Justice (MoJ). Section 84 of the Act states that in order for a request for information to be handled as a Freedom of Information (FOI) request, it must be for recorded information. For example, a Freedom of Information request would be for a copy of a policy, rather than an explanation as to why we have that policy in place. On occasion, the Ministry of Justice receives requests that do not ask for recorded information, but ask more general questions about, for example, a policy, opinion or a decision.
Since you are asking for clarification on the law relation to treason and detail of the statute regulating this area, this will be dealt with as Official Correspondence and you can expect a response from the appropriate area of the department.
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From: CLPU, Correspondence
Ministry of Justice
14 June 2012
Thank you for your email of 12 May. It has been passed to the Criminal
Law and Legal Policy Unit, which has responsibility for the policy on the
law on treason. I have been asked to reply.
In reply to your questions, I can confirm that the UK does still have laws
governing treason and that treason is still regarded as a crime in the UK.
Treason laws refer to the duty of allegiance a person owes in return for
the protection afforded by the Crown, and offences committed against the
allegiance. There are a number of Treason Acts still in force; the most
important one is the Treason Act 1351 which defines the main circumstances
in which high treason is committed. Details of the Treason Act of 1351
can be viewed here;
The Treason Acts still in force (and available on the legislation web
Treason Act 1351: defines high treason but contains no
Treason Act 1495: provides a defence against a charge of
treason for those going to war with the King.
Treason Act 1695: regulates trials for treason.
Treason Act 1702: provides that acts to hinder the
succession are punishable as high treason.
Treason Act 1814: (as amended by Crime and Disorder Act
1998) provides that the punishment for high treason is a maximum of life
Treason Act 1842: makes it an offence, punishable with 7
years’ imprisonment, to injure or alarm the Sovereign.
Treason Felony Act 1848: makes it an offence, punishable with a
maximum sentence of life imprisonment, to deprive or depose the Queen from
her established constitutional position; and to publish any writing or
printing advocating such change.
Treason Act 1945: technically still in force but spent as the only
extant provision refers to the extent of the Treason Act 1800 which has
There is also a common law offence of misprision of treason which consists
of failing to inform of any treasons committed or threatened by others, or
of attempting to rescue any traitor from justice.
In modern practice the Treason Acts are rarely invoked. This is partly
because many of the Acts are couched in archaic language, and prosecutions
are liable to be rendered difficult and complicated by the necessity to
prove all the ingredients of the offences. In many circumstances
alternative offences are available and might be preferred as being more
straightforward in prosecuting the case. Whether the appropriate charge
is treason or any other offence will be a matter for the Crown Prosecution
Service to decide after a full police investigation.
Under the Crime and Disorder Act of 1998, the penalty of death for treason
was abolished and replaced in the relevant Acts by life imprisonment. This
can be viewed at this link:
For some offences in Treason Acts other penalties apply.
CRIMINAL LAW POLICY UNIT
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