Disorderly house

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Photograph used in evidence for a prosecution for "keeping a disorderly house" in a flat in London's Fitzroy Square, in 1926

In English criminal law a disorderly house is a house in which the conduct of its inhabitants is such as to become a public nuisance, or outrages public decency, or tends to corrupt or deprave, or injures the public interest; or a house where persons congregate to the probable disturbance of the public peace or other commission of crime. To persistently or habitually keep a disorderly house is an offence against the common law, punishable by fine or imprisonment.[1]

The usual charge for keeping a brothel where prostitution can be proven, for instance, is under section 33A of the Sexual Offences Act 1956, "Keeping a Brothel for Prostitution", and the penalty is up to six months if proceeding summarily or seven years if by indictment. (The definition of a brothel in English law has been held to be "a place where people of opposite sexes are allowed to resort for illicit intercourse, whether…common prostitutes or not"[2] and thus prostitution need not form part of the picture; a soapland is, in the eyes of the law of England, a brothel without prostitution.) Brothel-keeping can, however, also be charged as "Keeping a Disorderly House" (contrary to the common law rather than any written statute), and is then punishable by an unlimited fine, and unlimited imprisonment.

The "operator" of a crack palace or opium den can also be charged with keeping a disorderly house, as can the owner/operator of an illegal gambling establishment, as well as the owner of a speakeasy, "blind tiger", or "boozecan" (illegal bar or pub). Modern vice laws, regulating such things as drinking, gambling, dancing, and drugs, have resulted in calls for the offence of keeping a disorderly house to be abolished.[citation needed]

As brothel-keeping is one of the most common causes for the charge of keeping a disorderly house, "disorderly house" has become something of a euphemism for brothel in the English legal community; brothel or "disorderly house"-related statutory offences can be found under sections 33 to 36 of the Sexual Offences Act 1956.[3] These are, however, not to be confused with the common-law offence of Keeping A Disorderly House.


There were formerly statutory provisions relating to disorderly houses under:

Both acts have been repealed in the UK.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Disorderly House" . Encyclopædia Britannica. 8 (11th ed.). 1911. p. 313.
  2. ^ Winter v Woolfe [1931] KB 549.
  3. ^ "Sexual Offences Act 1956". www.legislation.gov.uk. Retrieved 2016-11-30.
  4. ^ Disorderly Houses Act 1751
  5. ^ Sunday Observance Act 1780

Further reading[edit]