Outlawries Bill - Content


Since the bill is now neither printed nor debated, its exact text is unclear. The following outlawry bill, as introduced during the reign of Queen Victoria, may serve as an illustration for such a bill's form. Missing details such as dates or penalties are indicated in brackets.

A Bill for the more effectual preventing clandestine Outlawries. For the more effectual preventing Clandestine Outlawries in Personal Actions, Be it Enacted by the Queen's most excellent Majesty by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal and Commons in this present Parliament assembled and by the authority of the same. That if after the any attorney Solicitor or other person who shall prosecute any person or persons to Outlawry in any action personal wherein no Writ or Exegerit shall be awarded shall make default to send or deliver the Writ of Proclamation to the Sheriff of the proper County where the Defendant shall be dwelling at the time of awarding the Exegerit (the place of such dwelling being known), every such Attorney Solicitor or other person aforesaid making such default being lawfully convicted shall for every such offence forfeit ; and if the Sheriff (the Writ of Proclamation being duly delivered to him) shall refuse or neglect before the Return of the Writ to make Proclamations according to the directions of the Act made in the thirty-first year of the reign of Queen Elizabeth for the avoiding of privy and secret Outlawries in actions personal, every such Sheriff being lawfully convicted shall for every such refusal or neglect forfeit .

When a defendant in civil or criminal cases could not be found, the reason would not always be clear. A person might depart for perfectly innocent reasons and be completely unaware that a criminal accusation or civil suit might be brought against him after his departure. The English common law, however, established a rule that if a defendant could not be found (or did not show up for court) after a certain waiting period and proper public advertisements, he could be assumed to have fled or hid to escape justice, and subjected to the appropriate punishments for contempt of court.

A "clandestine outlawry" would be a judgment of outlawry passed against a defendant without giving the legal action proper publicity and the defendant adequate opportunity to be notified and answer the charges. The Outlawries Bill contemplates two manners in which this might happen.

The first possibility considers that litigants - whether attorneys, solicitors or any other persons - might know the county where the defendant is dwelling, but nevertheless fail to send or deliver the Writ of Proclamation to the sheriff of the proper county. In other words, they might sue a defendant in a remote place and, knowing where the defendant lives, fail to contact the defendant by official channels.

The second possibility refers to a previous Act of Outlawry describing the proper proclamations to be made to seek a legal defendant, and considers that a sheriff might neglect or refuse to make such proclamations, and nevertheless report (returning the writ) that the person was not found (and therefore presumed to be escaping justice).

The text of the Outlawries Bill provides penalties for both kinds of malefactors (sheriffs and plaintiffs), leaving blanks for the actual penalties, to be decided during further discussion of the Bill.

Before the Outlawries Bill became a symbolic custom, two Outlawry Acts were passed into English law: the Outlawry Act 1331 and the Avoidance of Secret Outlawries Act 1588, neither of which is still in force.

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