Front Page Titles (by Subject) Chapter VIII: MARTIAL LAW - Introduction to the Study of the Law of the Constitution (LF ed.)
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Chapter VIII: MARTIAL LAW - Albert Venn Dicey, Introduction to the Study of the Law of the Constitution (LF ed.) 
Introduction to the Study of the Law of the Constitution, ed. Roger E. Michener (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund 1982).
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No sharp line can be drawn between rules of private law or of criminal law and constitutional lawThe rights already treated of in the foregoing chapter, as for example the right to personal freedom or the right to free expression of opinion, do not, it may be suggested, properly belong to the province of constitutional law at all, but form part either of private law strictly so called, or of the ordinary criminal law. Thus A's right to personal freedom is, it may be said, only the right of A not to be assaulted, or imprisoned, by X, or (to look at the same thing from another point of view) is nothing else than the right of A, if assaulted by X, to bring an action against X, or to have X punished as a criminal for the assault. Now in this suggestion there lies an element of important truth, yet it is also undoubted that the right to personal freedom, the right to free discussion, and the like, appear in the forefront of many written constitutions, and are in fact the chief advantages which citizens hope to gain by the change from a despotic to a constitutional form of government.
The truth is that these rights may be looked upon from two points of view. They may be considered simply parts of private or, it may be, of criminal law; thus the right to personal freedom may, as already pointed out, be looked at as the right of A not to have the control of his body interfered with by X. But in so far as these rights hold good against the governing body in the state, or in other words, in so far as these fights determine the relation of individual citizens towards the executive, they are part, and a most important part, of the law of the constitution.
Now the noticeable point is that in England the rights of citizens as against each other are (speaking generally) the same as the rights of citizens against any servant of the Crown. This is the significance of the assertion that in this country the law of the constitution is part of the ordinary law of the land. The fact that a Secretary of State cannot at his discretion and for reasons of state arrest, imprison, or punish any man, except, of course, where special powers are conferred upon him by statute, as by an Alien Act or by an Extradition Act, is simply a result of the principle that a Secretary of State is governed in his official as in his private conduct by the ordinary law of the realm. Were the Home Secretary to assault the leader of the Opposition in a fit of anger, or were the Home Secretary to arrest him because he thought his political opponent's freedom dangerous to the state, the Secretary of State would in either case be liable to an action, and all other penalties to which a person exposes himself by committing an assault. The fact that the arrest of an influential politician whose speeches might excite disturbance was a strictly administrative act would afford no defence to the Minister or to the constables who obeyed his orders.
The subjects treated of in this chapter and in the next three chapters dearly belong to the field of constitutional law, and no one would think of objecting to their treatment in a work on the law of the constitution that they are really part of private law. Yet, if the matter be looked at carefully, it will be found that, just as rules which at first sight seem to belong to the domain of private law are in reality the foundation of constitutional principles, so topics which appear to belong manifestly to the law of constitution depend with us at bottom on the principles of private or of criminal law. Thus the position of a soldier is in England governed, as we shall see, by the principle, that though a soldier is subject to special liabilities in his military capacity, he remains while in the ranks, as he was when out of them, subject to all the liabilities of an ordinary citizen. So, from a legal point of view, ministerial responsibility is simply one application of the doctrine which pervades English law,1 that no one can plead the command of a superior, were it the order of the Crown itself, in defence of conduct otherwise not justified by law.
Turn the matter which way you will, you come back to the all-important consideration on which we have already dwelt, that whereas under many foreign constitutions the rights of individuals flow, or appear to flow, from the articles of the constitution, in England the law of the constitution is the result, not the source of the rights of individuals. It becomes, too, more and more apparent that the means by which the Courts have maintained the law of the constitution have been the strict insistence upon the two principles, first of “equality before the law,” which negatives exemption from the liabilities of ordinary citizens or from the jurisdiction of the ordinary Courts, and, secondly, of “personal responsibility of wrongdoers,” which excludes the notion that any breach of law on the part of a subordinate can be justified by the orders of his superiors; the legal dogma, as old at least as the tune of Edward the Fourth, that, if any man arrest another without lawful warrant, even by the King's command, he shall not be excused, but shall be liable to an action for false imprisonment, is not a special limitation imposed upon the royal prerogative, but the application to acts done under royal orders of that principle of individual responsibility which runs through the whole law of torts.2
Martial Law “Martial Law”3 in the proper sense of that term, in which it means the suspension of ordinary law and the temporary government of a country or parts of it by military tribunals, is unknown to the law of England.4 We have nothing equivalent to what is called in France the “Declaration of the State of Siege,”5 under which the authority ordinarily vested in the civil power for the maintenance of order and police passes entirely to the army (autorité militaire). This is an unmistakable proof of the permanent supremacy of the law under our constitution.
The assertion, however, that no such thing as martial law exists under our system of government, though perfectly true, will mislead any one who does not attend carefully to the distinction between two utterly different senses in which the term “martial law” is used by English writers.
In what sense martial law recognised by English law Martial law is sometimes employed as a name for the common law right of the Crown and its servants to repel force by force in the case of invasion, insurrection, riot, or generally of any violent resistance to the law. This right, or power, is essential to the very existence of orderly government, and is most assuredly recognised in the most ample manner by the law of England. It is a power which has in itself no special connection with the existence of an armed force. The Crown has the right to put down breaches of the peace. Every subject, whether a civilian or a soldier, whether what is called a “servant of the government,” such for example as a policeman, or a person in no way connected with the administration, not only has the right, but is, as a matter of legal duty,6 bound to assist in putting down breaches of the peace. No doubt policemen or soldiers are the persons who, as being specially employed in the maintenance of order, are most generally called upon to suppress a riot, but it is clear that all loyal subjects are bound to take their part in the suppression of riots. It is also clear that a soldier has, as such, no exemption from liability to the law for his conduct in restoring order. Officers, magistrates, soldiers, policemen, ordinary citizens, all occupy in the eye of the law the same position; they are, each and all of them, bound to withstand and put down breaches of the peace, such as riots and other disturbances; they are, each and all of them authorised to employ so much force, even to the taking of life, as may be necessary for that purpose, and they are none of them entitled to use more; they are, each and all of them, liable to be called to account before a jury for the use of excessive, that is, of unnecessary force; they are each, it must be added—for this is often forgotten—liable, in theory at least, to be called to account before the Courts for non-performance of their duty as citizens in putting down riots, though of course the degree and kind of energy which each is reasonably bound to exert in the maintenance of order may depend upon and differ with his position as officer, magistrate, soldier, or ordinary civilian. Whoever doubts these propositions should study the leading case of Rex v. Pinney,7 in which was fully considered the duty of the Mayor of Bristol in reference to the Reform Riots of 1831.
So accustomed have people become to fancy that the maintenance of the peace is the duty solely of soldiers or policemen, that many students will probably feel surprise on discovering, from the doctrine laid down in Rex v. Pinney, how stringent are the obligations of a magistrate in time of tumult, and how unlimited is the amount of force which he is bound to employ in support of the law. A student, further, must be on his guard against being misled, as he well might be, by the language of the Riot Act.8 That statute provides, in substance, that if twelve rioters continue together for an hour after a magistrate has made a proclamation to them in the terms of the Act (which proclamation is absurdly enough called reading the Riot Act) ordering them to disperse, he may command the troops to fire upon the rioters or charge them sword in hand.9 This, of course, is not the language, but it is the effect of the enactment. Now the error into which an uninstructed reader is likely to fall, and into which magistrates and officers have from time to time (and notably during the Gordon riots of 1780) in fact fallen, is to suppose that the effect of the Riot Act is negative as well as positive, and that, therefore, the military cannot be employed without the fulfilment of the conditions imposed by the statute. This notion is now known to be erroneous; the occasion on which force can be employed, and the kind and degree of force which it is lawful to use in order to put down a riot, is determined by nothing else than the necessity of the case.
If, then, by martial law be meant the power of the government or of loyal citizens to maintain public order, at whatever cost of blood or property may be necessary, martial law is assuredly part of the law of England. Even, however, as to this kind of martial law one should always bear in mind that the question whether the force employed was necessary or excessive will, especially where death has ensued, be ultimately determined by a judge and jury,10 and that the estimate of what constitutes necessary force formed by a judge and jury, sitting in quiet and safety after the suppression of a riot, may differ considerably from the judgment formed by a general or magistrate, who is surrounded by armed rioters, and knows that at any moment a riot may become a formidable rebellion, and the rebellion if unchecked become a successful revolution.
In what sense martial law not recognised by English law. Martial law is, however, more often used as the name for the government of a country or a district by military tribunals, which more or less supersede the jurisdiction of the Courts. The proclamation of martial law in this sense of the term is, as has been already pointed out,11 nearly equivalent to the state of things which in France and many other foreign countries is known as the declaration of a “state of siege,” and is in effect the temporary and recognised government of a country by military force. The legal aspect of this condition of affairs in states which recognise the existence of this kind of martial law can hardly be better given than by citing some of the provisions of the law which at the present day regulates the state of siege in France:
We may reasonably, however, conjecture that the terms of the law give but a faint conception of the real condition of affairs when, in consequence of tumult or insurrection, Paris, or some other part of France, is dedared in a state of siege, and, to use a significant expression known to some continental countries, “the constitutional guarantees are suspended.” We shall hardly go far wrong if we assume that, during this suspension of ordinary law, any man whatever is liable to arrest, imprisonment, or execution at the will of a military tribunal consisting of a few officers who are excited by the passions natural to civil war. However this may be, it is dear that in France, even under the present Republican government, the suspension of law involved in the prodamation of a state of siege is a thing fully recognised by the constitution, and (strange though the fact may appear) the authority of military Courts during a state of siege is greater under the Republic than it was under the monarchy of Louis Philippe.13
Now, this kind of martial law is in England utterly unknown to the constitution. Soldiers may suppress a riot as they may resist an invasion, they may fight rebels just as they may fight foreign enemies, but they have no right under the law to inflict punishment for riot or rebellion. During the effort to restore peace, rebels may be lawfully killed just as enemies may be lawfully slaughtered in battle, or prisoners may be shot to prevent their escape, but any execution (independently of military law) inflicted by a Court-martial is illegal, and technically murder. Nothing better illustrates the noble energy with which judges have maintained the rule of regular law, even at periods of revolutionary violence, than Wolfe Tone's Case.14 In 1798, Wolfe Tone, an Irish rebel, took part in a French invasion of Ireland. The man-of-war in which he sailed was captured, and Wolfe Tone was brought to trial before a Court-martial in Dublin. He was thereupon sentenced to be hanged. He held, however, no commission as an English officer, his only commission being one from the French Republic. On the morning when his execution was about to take place application was made to the Irish King's Bench for a writ of habeas corpus. The ground taken was that Wolfe Tone, not being a military person, was not subject to punishment by a Court-martial, or, in effect, that the officers who tried him were attempting illegally to enforce martial law. The Court of King's Bench at once granted the writ. When it is remembered that Wolfe Tone's substantial guilt was admitted, that the Court was made up of judges who detested the rebels, and that in 1798 Ireland was in the midst of a revolutionary crisis, it will be admitted that no more splendid assertion of the supremacy of the law can be found than the protection of Wolfe Tone by the Irish Bench.
See Mommsen, Romische Staatsrecht, p. 672, for the existence of what seems to have been a similar principle in early Roman law.
See Hearn, Government of England (2nd ed.), chap. iv.; and compare Gardiner, History, x. pp. 144,145.
See Forsyth, Opinions, pp. 188–216, 481–563; Stephen, History of the Criminal Law, i. pp. 201–216; Rex v. Pinney, 5 c. – P. 254; 4 St. Tr. (n. s.) 11;Reg. v. Vincent, 9 C. & P. 91; 3 St. Tr. (n. s.) 1037;, Reg. v. Neale, 9 C. & P. 431.
This statement has no reference to the law of any other country than England, even though such country may form part of the British Empire. With regard to England in time of peace the statement is certainly true. As to how far, if at all, it ought to be qualified with regard to a state of war, see Appendix, Note X., Martial Law in England during Time ot War or Insurrection.
See Loi sur l'itat de siège, 9 Aout 1849, Roger et Sorel, Codes et Lois, p. 436; Loi 3 Avril 1878, art. 1, and generally Duguit, Manuel de Droit Constitutionnel, s. 76, pp. 510–513, 926. See p. 186, post.
Compare Miller v. Knox, 6 Scott 1. See statement of Commissioners including Bowen, L. J., and R. B. Haldane, Q. C., for Inquiring into the Disturbances at Featherstone in 1893 [C. 7234], and see Appendix, Note VI., Duty of Soldiers called upon to disperse Unlawful Assembly.
5 C. & P. 254; 3 St. Tr. (n. s.) 11;
1 Geo. I. stat. 2, c. 5.
See Stephen, History of the Criminal Law, i. pp. 202–205.
This statement does not contradict anything decided by Ex parte D. F. Marais , A. C. 109, nor is it inconsistent with the language used in the judgment of the Privy Council, if that language be strictly construed, as it ought to be, in accordance with the important principles that, first, “a case is only an authority for what it actually decides” (Quinn v. Leathern , A, C. 506, judgment of Halsbury, L. C.), and, secondly, “every judgment must be read as applicable to the particular facts proved, or assumed to be proved, since the generality of the expressions which may be found there are not intended to be expositions of the whole law, but governed and qualified by the particular facts of the case in which such expressions are to be found” (ibid.).
Seep. 182, ante.
Roger et Sorel, Codes et Lois, pp. 436, 437.
See Geoffroy's Case, 24 Journal du Palais, p. 1218, cited by Forsyth, Opinions, p. 483. Conf., however, for statement of limits imposed by French law on action of military authorities during state of siege, Duguit, Manuel de Droit Constitutionnel, pp. 512, 513.
27 St. Tr. 614.