Defence of the Realm Act 1914
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|Long title||An Act to confer on His Majesty in Council power to make Regulations during the present War for the Defence of the Realm.|
|Chapter||4 & 5 Geo. 5 c. 29|
|Territorial extent||United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland|
|Royal Assent||8 August 1914|
|Commencement||8 August 1914|
|Related legislation||See below|
The Defence of the Realm Act (DORA) was passed in the United Kingdom on 8 August 1914, four days after it entered World War I. It gave the government wide-ranging powers during the war period, such as the power to requisition buildings or land needed for the war effort, or to make regulations creating criminal offences.
"No person shall by word of mouth or in writing spread reports likely to cause disaffection or alarm among any of His Majesty's forces or among the civilian population"
The trivial peacetime activities no longer permitted included flying kites, starting bonfires, buying binoculars, feeding wild animals bread, discussing naval and military matters or buying alcohol on public transport. Alcoholic beverages were watered down and pub opening times were restricted to noon–3pm and 6:30pm–9:30pm (the requirement for an afternoon gap in permitted hours lasted in England until the Licensing Act 1988 was brought into force).
The law was designed to help prevent invasion and to keep morale at home high. It imposed censorship of journalism and of letters coming home from the front line. The press was subject to controls on reporting troop movements, numbers or any other operational information that could be exploited by the enemy. People who breached the regulations with intent to assist the enemy could be sentenced to death. 10 people were executed under the regulations.
Though some provisions of DORA may seem strange, they did have their purposes. Flying a kite or lighting a bonfire could attract Zeppelins, and after rationing was introduced in 1917, feeding wild animals was a waste of food.
The first person to be arrested under DORA was John Maclean, a Marxist and Clydeside revolutionary, for uttering statements deemed prejudicial to recruiting. He was fined £5 but refused to pay and so spent five nights in prison and was subsequently dismissed from his post as a teacher by the Govan Board of Education (Anybody with a criminal conviction was not allowed to teach, practice law or medicine).
The original Act, its amendment, and consolidation
(1) His Majesty in Council has power during the continuance of the present war to issue regulations as to the powers and duties of the Admiralty and Army Council, and of the members of His Majesty's forces, and other persons acting in His behalf, for securing the public safety and the defence of the realm; and may, by such regulations, authorise the trial by courts martial and punishment of persons contravening any of the provisions of such regulations designed—
- (a) To prevent persons communicating with the enemy or obtaining information for that purpose or any purpose calculated to jeopardise the success of the operations of any of His Majesty's forces or to assist the enemy; or
- (b) To secure the safety of any means of communication, or of railways, docks or harbours; in like manner as if such persons were subject to military law and had on active service committed an offence under section 5 of the Army Act.
(2) This Act may be cited as the Defence of the Realm Act, 1914.
The original Act was amended and extended six times over the course of the War, firstly on 28 August 1914 by the Defence of the Realm (No. 2) Act 1914, and then on 27 November 1914 by the Defence of the Realm Consolidation Act 1914 (which repealed and replaced the existing Acts). This final Act contained the following:
(1) His Majesty in Council has power during the continuance of the present war to issue regulations for securing the public safety and the defence of the realm, and as to the powers and duties for that purpose of the Admiralty and Army Council and of the members of His Majesty's forces and other persons acting in his behalf; and may by such regulations authorise the trial by courts-martial, or in the case of minor offences by courts of summary jurisdiction, and punishment of persons committing offences against the regulations and in particular against any of the provisions of such regulations designed:
- (a) to prevent persons communicating with the enemy or obtaining information for that purpose or any purpose calculated to jeopardise the success of the operations of any of His Majesty's forces or the forces of his allies or to assist the enemy; or
- (b) to secure the safety of His Majesty's forces and ships and the safety of any means of communication and of railways, ports, and harbours; or
- (c) to prevent the spread of false reports or reports likely to cause disaffection to His Majesty or to interfere with the success of His Majesty's forces by land or sea or to prejudice His Majesty's relations with foreign powers; or
- (d) to secure the navigation of vessels in accordance with directions given by or under the authority of the Admiralty; or
- (e) otherwise to prevent assistance being given to the enemy or the successful prosecution of the war being endangered.
(3) It shall be lawful for the Admiralty or Army Council:
- (a) to require that there shall be placed at their disposal the whole or any part of the output of any factory or workshop in which arms, ammunition, or warlike stores and equipment, or any articles required for the production thereof, are manufactured;
- (b) to take possession of, and use for the purpose of, His Majesty's naval or military service any such factory or workshop or any plant thereof;
In Canada, the Federal Government passed the War Measures Act in response to outbreak of World War I, since replaced by the Emergencies Act. Similar acts in the United States include the Sedition Act of 1918, and the Espionage Act of 1917.
After the War
Some of the provisions of the DORA regulations were re-enacted for peacetime emergencies, as part of the Emergency Powers Act 1920. A modified form of the regulations was also introduced in Ireland by the Restoration of Order in Ireland Act 1920, in an attempt to suppress the Irish War of Independence.
Second World War
At the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 the United Kingdom again passed a similar Act, the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act 1939. Regulations made under this Act created two capital offences, while the Treachery Act 1940 created a new capital offence of assisting the enemy. Although non-combatant, the Irish state also passed an Emergency Powers Act 1939.
- Supplement to the London Gazette, 1 September 1914
- Hansard, 22 May 1940
- The Times Documentary History of the War. The Times. 1917. Retrieved 13 December 2010.
- Defence of the Realm Act, The National Archives
- Defence of the Realm Act (DORA) in The Encyclopedia of World War I: A Political, Social, and Military History, Dr Spencer C Tucker, vol. 2, pp 341–2. ISBN 1-85109-420-2
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