Piracy Act 1717

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The Piracy Act 1717 was an Act of the Parliament of Great Britain (4 Geo. I cap. 11) long title An Act for the further preventing Robbery, Burglary, and other Felonies, and for the more effectual Transportation of Felons, and unlawful Exporters of Wool; and for declaring the Law upon some Points relating to Pirates.) that established a seven-year penal transportation to North America as a possible punishment for those convicted of lesser felonies, or as a possible sentence that capital punishment might be commuted to by royal pardon. Transportation of criminals to North America continued from 1718-1776. When the American revolution made it unfeasible to carry out transportation, those sentenced to it were punished with imprisonment or hard labour instead. From 1787-1868, criminals were transported to the British colonies in Australia.

The reasons for the Act derive from the convergence of a number of factors. Fears over rising crime and disorder after the end of the War of the Spanish Succession in 1714, a contested Hanoverian accession to the British throne, inappropriate punishments for lesser felonies (misdemeanours), concern over crowd behaviour at public punishments, and a new determination by parliament to push through the legislation despite colonial opposition resulted in the passing of the Act. Transportation thus became a regularly available sentence for the courts to hand down to those convicted of non-capital offences as well as capital crimes. The death penalty for most kinds of piracy was abolished by the Piracy Act 1837, which preserved the death penalty for piracy with intent to kill. The death penalty was abolished altogether in 1998. The 1717 Act was repealed in 1993.

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