Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Curfew Definition:

A sentence or bail condition that gives the individual the freedom to move about in the community so long as they return to their residence for the hours specified (often 9 p.m. to 7 a.m.).

Related Terms: House Arrest

Justice Veale of the Supreme Court of the Yukon Territory, in R. v. Eby and Goodman, wrote:

"A curfew ... gives the offender the freedom to move about in the community at their own discretion so long as they comply with the general conditions of their sentence and return to their residence for the hours of curfew, typically 9:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. when many citizens are in their homes in any event."

In one case1 where a curfew was ordered, it was made in these terms:

"The accused shall observe a curfew between the hours of 7:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m. the following day. During the curfew the accused shall be confined to his place of residence at 9800 Kalamalka Road, Vernon, British Columbia."

curfew signThe term is believed to have been derived from the French couvre feu (i.e. cover fire).

Its origins in English law can be found in the name given to the bell (curfeu) which marked the commencement of the period of time, usually eight o'clock, at which all candles and fires were to be extinguished.

The public policy of the law was not always simply to minimize the opportunity for seditious activities but as a means to address the problem of fires in urban areas.

King Alfred (849-899) is known to have imposed a curfew upon the residents of Oxford.

William the Conqueror (1028-1087), as a means of his armies to quell post-conquest unrest by the ringing of bells in towns at 8 p.m. as the deadline for all residences to extinguish all lighting, candles and fireplaces included, disperse any gatherings, and to be within their dwellings.

In Book 4 (pages 419-420), of his Commentaries of the Laws of EnglandWilliam Blackstone wrote of the aftermath of the 1066 conquest by the Norman King (William I):

"In cities and towns ... all company being obliged to disperse, and fire and candle to be extinguished by eight at night at the sound of the melancholy curfeu (the signal bell)."


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