general warrants

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Eighteenth‐cent. secretaries of state claimed a discretionary power in cases of seditious libel to issue general warrants for the arrest of persons unnamed. In 1763 Lord Halifax issued one for the apprehension of all connected with printing or publishing No. 45 of the North Briton. Forty‐nine persons were arrested, including Wilkes, author of the offending piece. But in December 1763 Chief Justice Pratt (Camden) declared general warrants illegal. The House of Commons confirmed the ruling in 1766, and in 1769 Wilkes won £4,000 damages from Halifax for wrongful arrest.

Subjects: Law — British History.

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