High treason

High treason

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High treason is criminal disloyalty to one's government. Participating in a war against one's native country, attempting to overthrow its government, spying on its military, its diplomats, or its secret services for a hostile and foreign power, or attempting to kill its head of state are perhaps the best known examples of high treason. High treason requires that the alleged traitor have obligations of loyalty in the state he or she betrayed, such as citizenship, although presence in the state at the time is sufficient. Foreign spies, assassins, and saboteurs, though not suffering the dishonor associated with conviction for high treason, may still be tried and punished judicially for acts of espionage, assassination, or sabotage, though in contemporary times, foreign spies and saboteurs are usually repatriated following capture. High treason is considered a very serious crime.

Historically, in common law
Common law
Common law is law developed by judges through decisions of courts and similar tribunals rather than through legislative statutes or executive branch action...

 countries, high treason was differentiated from petty treason
Petty treason
Petty treason or petit treason was an offence under the common law of England which involved the betrayal of a superior by a subordinate. It differed from the better-known high treason in that high treason can only be committed against the Sovereign...

, which was the act of killing a lawful superior (such as a servant killing his or her master or mistress). It was, in effect, considered a more serious degree of murder
Murder
Murder is the unlawful killing, with malice aforethought, of another human being, and generally this state of mind distinguishes murder from other forms of unlawful homicide...

. As jurisdictions around the world abolished petty treason, the concept of petty treason gradually faded, and today use of the word "treason
Treason
In law, treason is the crime that covers some of the more extreme acts against one's sovereign or nation. Historically, treason also covered the murder of specific social superiors, such as the murder of a husband by his wife. Treason against the king was known as high treason and treason against a...

" generally refers to "high treason."

Until the 19th century, counterfeit
Counterfeit
To counterfeit means to illegally imitate something. Counterfeit products are often produced with the intent to take advantage of the superior value of the imitated product...

ing coins was high treason in the United Kingdom
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 and its predecessor countries.

Canadian law


In Canadian law, however, there are two separate offences of treason and high treason, but both of these, in fact, fall in the historical category of high treason. In Canada, the main difference in law between treason and high treason depends on whether the nation is at war or not. Most acts (attempting to overthrow the government, spying for a foreign power, revealing state secrets, etc.) are considered in peacetime to constitute the crime of “treason”. The same acts, committed in wartime, however, constitute the crime of “high treason”. Only the act of attempting to assassinate the Queen is legally considered “high treason” during times of peace. The punishment for high treason in Canadian law is mandatory life imprisonment. The punishment for treason is imprisonment up to life, except where the treasonable offence is the betrayal of scientific or military state secrets; then the punishment is life imprisonment during wartime (high treason), but imprisonment of a term not exceeding fourteen years in peacetime (treason).

See also

  • Treason
    Treason
    In law, treason is the crime that covers some of the more extreme acts against one's sovereign or nation. Historically, treason also covered the murder of specific social superiors, such as the murder of a husband by his wife. Treason against the king was known as high treason and treason against a...

  • List of people convicted of treason
  • High treason in the United Kingdom
    High treason in the United Kingdom
    Under the law of the United Kingdom, high treason is the crime of disloyalty to the Crown. Offences constituting high treason include plotting the murder of the sovereign; having sexual intercourse with the sovereign's consort, with his eldest unmarried daughter, or with the wife of the heir to the...