Penalty under UK law and the Treason Act explained after man tried to harm the Queen

A man has pleaded guilty to a charge under the Treason Act after being caught in the grounds of Windsor Castle with a loaded crossbow and admitting intent to harm the Queen.

Jaswant Singh Chail, 21, pleaded guilty to three charges on Friday at the Old Bailey on London, relating to an incident that took place on Christmas Day in 2021.

The most serious charge under section two of the Treason Act said that “on 25 December 2021 at Windsor Castle, near to the person of the Queen, you did wilfully produce or have a loaded crossbow with intent to use the same to injure the person of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, or to alarm her Majesty”.

Court artist sketch by Elizabeth Cook of Jaswant Singh Chail, 21, from Southampton, in the dock at the Old Bailey (Photo: PA)

He was also charged with making a threat to kill the Queen and having an offensive weapon in a public place.

Chail is the first person in the UK to be convicted of treason since 1981.

What is the definition of treason?

The 1842 Treason Act makes it an offence to assault the Queen, or have a firearm or offensive weapon in her presence with intent to injure or alarm her, or to cause a breach of peace.

The act was passed early in the reign of Queen Victoria after a number of assassination attempts against her. Under the previous 1351 Treason Act, all assaults against the monarch were punishable by death.

One of the attacks on Victoria, by a man named John William Bean in 1842, used a pistol loaded only with paper and tobacco. This prompted Prince Albert, Victoria’s husband, to encourage Parliament to pass a law recognising lesser crimes against the monarch, such as intent to alarm. Bean was sentenced to 18 months in jail under the new act.

What is the punishment for treason?

Today, a person convicted under the Treason Act is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding seven years.

When section two of the act was originally established an attempt to assault or alarm the monarch was made punishable by flogging and up to seven years’ imprisonment. No one who violated the act was ever flogged.

Marcus Sarjeant was the last person convicted under the 1842 Treason Act in 1981. He was jailed for five years after firing blank shots at the Queen while she was riding down The Mall in London during the Trooping the Colour parade.

The last person to be convicted under the separate and more serious 1351 Treason Act was William Joyce, also known as Lord Haw-Haw, who collaborated with Germany during the Second World War.

What did Jaswant Singh Chail do?

Chail was detained close to the Queen’s private Windsor residence, where she was at the time.

He was spotted in the grounds of Windsor Castle at about 8.10am. It is understood he had scaled the perimeter of the grounds with a nylon rope ladder two hours before.

He was wearing a hood and mask and was carrying a crossbow loaded with a bolt, with the safety catch off, ready to fire.

Chail told a police protection officer “I am here to kill the Queen”, before he was handcuffed and arrested.

Detectives trawled through CCTV and established that Chail had travelled to Windsor on 23 December.

The investigation uncovered evidence of his planning and that he had been motivated by ill-feeling towards the British Empire.

Prosecutors allege he sought revenge against the establishment for the treatment of Indians, and had sent a video to about 20 people claiming he was going to attempt to assassinate the Queen.

The video was recorded four days earlier and sent to Chail’s contacts list on Snapchat about 10 minutes before his arrest.

In the video, Chail said: “I’m sorry, I’m sorry for what I’ve done and what I will do. I will attempt to assassinate Elizabeth, Queen of the Royal Family.

“This is revenge for those who have died in the 1919 Jallianwala Bagh massacre. It is also revenge for those who have been killed, humiliated and discriminated on because of their race.”

Chail, who was charged on 2 August last year, had previously applied to join the Ministry of Defence Police and the Grenadier Guards, in a bid to get close to the Royal Family.

The Supersonic X-Bow weapon he was carrying had the potential to cause “serious or fatal injuries”, according to the prosecution.

Chail, from Southampton, Hampshire, entered his guilty pleas before senior judge Mr Justice Jeremy Baker by video link from Broadmoor psychiatric hospital.

The defendant, who wore a black jacket with fake fur collars, spoke only to confirm his name and to plead guilty to the charges against him.

Prosecutor Alison Morgan KC had asked for the defendant to enter pleas after a psychiatric report found he was fit to stand trial.

She suggested a mental health disposal in the case may not be needed as Chail’s condition had improved with treatment at Broadmoor, where he had been since February last year.

Mr Justice Baker ordered Chail’s treating doctor to compile a report on his “diagnosis, prognosis and if necessary disposal” by the end of February, with a further report by another psychiatrist dealing with how dangerous Chail is.

The senior judge fixed a sentencing date at the Old Bailey for 31 March.

The judge also lifted a court restriction in the case, allowing details to be reported.

Nick Price, head of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) Special Crime and Counter Terrorism Division, said: “Chail entered the protected areas within Windsor Castle after making threats to kill Her late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Thankfully police officers intervened and nobody was hurt.

“This was a serious incident, but fortunately a rare one. We are grateful to all those who were involved in the investigation.”

Commander Richard Smith, who leads the Met’s Counter Terrorism Command, said: “This was an extremely serious incident, but one which the patrolling officers who apprehended Chail managed with great composure and professionalism.

“They showed tremendous bravery to confront a masked man who was armed with a loaded crossbow, and then detain him without anyone coming to harm.

“Our Royalty and Specialist Protection Command works with the Royal Household and local police forces at various royal residences across the country to ensure those living, working or visiting are kept safe.”

The CPS confirmed the late Queen and other members of the Royal Family had been at Windsor Castle when Chail was intercepted and ordered to drop the weapon.

Based on subsequent tests, the bow was found to be comparable to a powerful air rifle with the potential to cause serious or fatal injury.

Crossbow bolts, a metal file and other items were later found in a hotel room where Chail had stayed the previous night, the CPS said.