Criminal Law and Procedure (Ireland) Act 1887

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The Criminal Law and Procedure (Ireland) Act 1887 (50 & 51 Vict. c. 20) was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom which amended the criminal law in Ireland to give greater law enforcement power to the authorities. It was introduced by Arthur Balfour, then Chief Secretary for Ireland, to deal with the Plan of Campaign, an increase in illegal activity associated with the Land War.[1] It was informally called the Crimes Act,[2] Irish Crimes Act, or Perpetual Crimes Act;[3] (the last because it was permanent, unlike earlier Crimes Acts passed as emergency measures with limited duration[4]) or the Jubilee Coercion Act (being passed in the year of the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria[5]).


The act empowered the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland by proclamation to name a district within which the act would have force. The other provisions applied only with such "proclaimed areas".

The act allowed actions connected to agrarian violence to be tried as summary offences by a magistrate without a jury.[1] The "Mitchelstown Massacre" occurred on 9 September 1887, when Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) members fired at a crowd protesting against the conviction under the act of two men, including MP William O'Brien.[1] Three were killed; when Balfour defended the RIC in the Commons, O'Brien dubbed him "Bloody Balfour".[6] On 6 May 1920, as the Irish War of Independence was escalating, it was reported to the Commons that "Between 1st November, 1918, and 30th April, 1920, 305 cases were dealt with under the Criminal Law and Procedure (Ireland) Act. 1,109 persons were prosecuted in these cases, 454 were convicted, 109 were discharged, 352 were ordered to find bail, 194 are awaiting trial."[7]

The act empowered the Lord Lieutenant to proclaim associations to be "dangerous" and to prohibit them. Under this power, the Irish National League was banned on 19 August 1887;[8] likewise the First Dáil on 10 September 1919;[9] Sinn Féin, the Irish Volunteers, Cumann na mBan, and the Gaelic League were proclaimed dangerous on 3 July 1918,[10] and banned in various counties between June and October 1919.[11][12]


Bills to repeal the act were introduced regularly Irish nationalist MPs.[13] In 1907, Michael Hogan proposed a motion in the Commons that, "in the opinion of this House, the presence of the Criminal Law and Procedure (Ireland) Act on the Statute Book is a gross violation of the Constitution, without parallel in any other portion of His Majesty's dominions, and that the Act should be immediately repealed."[14] It was supported on behalf of the government by Augustine Birrell, the newly appointed Chief Secretary for Ireland, and passed by 252 votes to 83.[14] A 1908 repeal bill passed second reading[15] and committee stage[16] in the Commons.

The act was repealed in the Republic of Ireland by the Statute Law Revision Act 1983.[17]

In the United Kingdom (as regards Northern Ireland) the act was partially repealed by the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1973.[18][19]



  • Ewing, Keith D.; Gearty, C. A. (2001). "Civil Liberties: the Irish Dimension". The Struggle for Civil Liberties: Political Freedom and the Rule of Law in Britain, 1914–1945. Oxford University Press. pp. 331–391. ISBN 9780198762515. Retrieved 18 November 2016.


  1. ^ a b c Comerford, R. V. (1 April 2010). "Chapter III The Parnell era, 1883–91". In Vaughan, W. E. (ed.). Ireland Under the Union, 1870-1921. A New History of Ireland. Vol.3. Oxford University Press. pp. 71–72. doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199583744.003.0003. ISBN 9780199583744. Retrieved 17 November 2016.
  2. ^ Maccoby, S. (18 October 2001). English Radicalism, 1886-1914. Psychology Press. p. 33, fn.1. ISBN 9780415265751. Retrieved 17 November 2016.
  3. ^ Madgwick, Peter James; Rose, Richard (18 June 1982). The Territorial Dimension in United Kingdom Politics. Palgrave Macmillan UK. p. 150. ISBN 9781349056033. Retrieved 17 November 2016.
  4. ^ Shannon, Richard (15 October 2008). Gladstone: God and Politics. A&C Black. p. 410. ISBN 9781847252036. Retrieved 17 November 2016.
  5. ^ Wilson, A.N. (30 September 2011). The Victorians. Random House. p. 532. ISBN 9781446493205. Retrieved 21 November 2016.
  6. ^ O'Brien, Joseph V. (1976). William O'Brien and the Course of Irish Politics, 1881-1918. University of California Press. p. 43. ISBN 9780520028869. Retrieved 17 November 2016.
  7. ^ "CRIMINAL LAW AND PROCEDURE ACT". Hansard. 6 May 1920. HC Deb vol 128 c2217. Retrieved 17 November 2016.
  8. ^ "Ministerial Statement". Hansard. 19 August 1887. pp. HL Deb vol 319 cc1063–4. Retrieved 17 November 2016.
  9. ^ Carty, James; Pangi, Robyn L. (30 March 2012). Bibliography of Irish History 1912-1921. Andrews UK Limited. p. 126. ISBN 9781781514832. Retrieved 17 November 2016.
  10. ^ Ewing and Gearty 2001, p.348
  11. ^ Ewing and Gearty 2001, p.352
  12. ^ "EPH F298". Holdings. National Library of Ireland. Retrieved 17 November 2016.
  13. ^ Sessional papers: HC 1893-1894 (114) 2 189 HC 1894 (8) 3 89 HC 1895 (12) 1 529 HC 1895 (27) 1 533 HC 1896 (32) 1 465 HC 1899 (19) 5 307 HC 1908 (11) 1 991
  14. ^ a b "Criminal Law and Procedure (Ireland) Act". Hansard. 13 March 1907. HC Deb vol 171 cc126–59. Retrieved 17 November 2016.
  15. ^ "Criminal Law and Procedure (Ireland) Act (1887) Repeal Bill". Hansard. 8 May 1908. HC Deb vol 188 cc565–648. Retrieved 17 November 2016.
  16. ^ Report from Standing Committee A on the Criminal Law and Procedure (Ireland) Act (1887) Repeal Bill, with the proceedings of the Committee. Sessional papers. HC 1908 (195) 7 67. London: HMSO. Retrieved 17 November 2016.
  17. ^ "Statute Law Revision Act, 1983, Section 1". Irish Statute Book. Retrieved 17 November 2016.
  18. ^ Howitt, Arnold M.; Pangi, Robyn L. (2003). Countering Terrorism: Dimensions of Preparedness. MIT Press. p. 422, fn.27. ISBN 9780262582391. Retrieved 17 November 2016.
  19. ^ "Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1973 (c. 53)". Schedule 5. Retrieved 17 November 2016.

Further reading[edit]

  • "Return to an Order dated the 13th July 1908 for Returns relative to the Criminal Law and Procedure (Ireland) Act, 1887". House of Commons sessional papers (237). 1908.

External links[edit]