NOTES on Rules of Admission to Freedom

NOTES on Rules of Admission to Freedom

  1. The Freeman (Admission) Act 1763 

The Freeman (Admission) Act 1763 is an Act of the Parliament of Great Britain (3 Geo III c. 15). The Act withheld the right to vote in Parliamentary elections, in those boroughs where honorary freemen could vote, from any freemen admitted to the freedom within twelve months of the first day of the election; it did not affect the rights of ordinary freemen, admitted by the custom of the borough in question.

The Act was passed in response to a number of instances of large numbers of non-resident honorary freemen being created to sway the results of elections, often after the writ for an election had been issued. At an election for Durham City in 1761, 215 new freemen, mostly non-resident, had been created after the issue of the writ and had proved decisive in a total poll of around 1,500. After the result was overturned on petition a bill was introduced to check this abuse, and the act was consequently known colloquially as the Durham Act.

2. Relaxing the rules over Admission at Sudbury (re AGM 2020)

While I fully understand and acknowledge the needs for new admissions due to their dwindling numbers. I am concerned that the heritage of ‘freedom’ does not become one of arbitrary modifications.

We recognise that the administration of admissions process is now in the hands of the Sudbury Town Council. It is proposed that the town council should remove what has been referred to as the ‘Grandfather’ rule and to allow more distant ‘blood’ relations.

The question of heritage rights remains one of ‘custom and law’. Controlled flexibility has been granted under the Democracy Act of 2009, but matters must still remain a question of legality.

The Town Council are required to analyse new applications. Will the town council have the legal ability (responsibility) to conform with the law as determined under the ‘Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009’? The procedure to be followed relates to the ‘rights of admission’. A resolution to make amendment may be passed if it meets the conditions and procedural requirements set out under the provision of the Act. If the law is broken, the Town Council can hold the Freemen’s Society responsible for any advice regarding an applicant that they are given.                                                                            Alan Shelley (FEW Vice President) August 2020.

3. Changing rules of admission to the Freedom

Opinion of Alan Fallows the FEW Archivist (Article for September 2020 FEW Journal)

It has come to my attention that the problem of diminishing membership has been causing some Guilds to look for new ways to counter this trend. Whilst I would generally support our stance that FEW does not issue instructions to our Guild Members, and only responds to requests for advice, this problem requires that I give a reminder of the legality of the Freedom. All member Guilds operate independently and must follow the constraints of their local customs as set in their original charters or modified by later statute or local Acts. Some Guilds have already (through ignorance of the Law of Custom) pursued changes to membership criteria through Local Acts and have inadvertently diluted the dignity of the Freedom as a result.

The 2009 LDED&C Act held within it the right for daughters of freemen to be afforded the same rights as sons of freemen subject to the local customs applicable in their towns or cities of entry. We also took the opportunity to include an enabling clause to permit Guilds to modify their local rules of admission, but only within strict rules and procedures. It is vitally important that Guilds realise that these permitted changes MUST still comply with the overall restrictions of the 1835 Municipal Corporations Act and subsequent revisions.

As Officers of your Guilds you will, no doubt, have agreed (under your constitutions) to be trustees of your Guilds which makes you jointly and severally liable for any breaches of their legal requirements, or for giving erroneous advice to prospective members or members/officers of your local Council. I will reiterate. The Freedom of the towns and cities of England and Wales is a legal entity. It cannot be revised without legal intervention and strict adherence to the rules of the various Acts that govern it. To do so reduces the Freedom to the level of a simple members club and removes its cherished status as the highest honour available for a town or city to grant its citizens

Alan Fallows (Archivist and Past President) September 2020.

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