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LAW OF PUBLIC HEALTH

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Originally appearing in Volume V22, Page 628 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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LAW OF PUBLIC HEALTH. State medicine as an organized department of administration is entirely of modern growth. By the common law of England the only remedy for any act or omission dangerous to health was an action for damages or an indictment for nuisance. The indictment for nuisance still lies for many offences which are now punishable in a summary manner under the powers of modern legislation. But for a long time it was the only, not as now a concurrent, remedy. At a comparatively early date statutes were passed dealing with matters for which the common law had provided too cumbrous a remedy, while the plague called forth the act of r Jac. I. c. 31 (1603), which made it a capital offence for an infected person to go abroad after being commanded by the proper authority to keep his house. The act for the rebuilding of London after the great fire, Ig Car. II. c. 3 (1668), contained various provisions as to the height of houses, breadth of streets, construction of sewers and prohibition of noisome trades. Numerous local acts gave the authorities of the more important towns power over the public health. But it was not until 1848 that a general Public Health Act, embracing the whole of England (except the Metropolis), was passed. The Public Health Act 1848 created a general board of health as the supreme authority in sanitary matters, but greater local sanitary control was given by an act of 1858. The local government board, the present central authority, wascreated by an act of 1871. Numerous acts dealing with public health were passed from 1849 to 1874; and the law was digested into the Public Health Act 1875, as amended by the Local Government Act 1894 and other acts. The tendency of English sanitary legislation has been to place local sanitary regulations in the hands of the local authorities, subject to general superintendence by a government department. The jurisdiction of a local authority is both preventive and remedial. The matters falling under it are very numerous, but the more important will be found in the article ENGLAND: Local Government. The act of 1875 was followed by the Public Health Acts Amendment Act 189o, the Public Health Act 1896 and the Public Health Acts Amendment Act 1907. The first of these statutes confers enlarged powers on such local authorities as choose to adopt it—the right of adoption being general in the case of urban authorities, and in that of rural authorities limited to certain specified pro-visions unless extended by the local government board. The Public Health Acts 1896 and 1904 abolished the old system of quarantine (q.v.), and empowered the local government board to make regulations as to the landing or embarking of infected persons from ships, British or foreign; while the act of 1907 enabled local authorities to adopt many of the useful clauses introduced into private bills from time to time, relating not only to sanitary provisions, but to streets and buildings, milk, &c. supply, recreation grounds, sky-signs, &c. Elaborate provision has been made for the notification of infectious diseases by the Infectious Diseases (Notification) Acts 1889 and 1899. The former statute was originally adoptive only, but it has now been extended by the latter to every district in England or Wales—in London notification has been compulsory since 1891. Reference should be made also to the following statutes: the Infectious Disease (Prevention) Act 1890 provides for the inspection of dairies, and the cleansing and disinfecting of premises, and under the Public Health (Ports) Act 1896 the local government board may by order assign to any port sanitary authority powers or duties arising under this statute. The scope of the Baths and Washhouses Acts 1846 to 1882 sufficiently appears from the title. The Isolation' Hospitals Act 1893 enables county councils to promote the establishment of hospitals for the reception of patients suffering from infectious diseases; the Cleansing of Persons Act 1897 enables local authorities to permit persons who apply to them, on the ground that they are infested with vermin, to have the gratuitous use of cleansing apparatus; and the Vaccination Acts of 1898 and 1907 profoundly modified the law as to vaccination by giving a discretion to magistrates. See too, among other acts, those of 1881 (alkali works), 1882 (fruit pickers), 1883 (epidemics), 1884 (cholera), 1904 (shop hours), 1905 (medical inspection of aliens) and numerous others. In addition to these statutes, account has to be taken of a large body of legislation which relates indirectly to the law of public health, or at least comes well within its range of operation. It deals with a very great variety of subjects, and only the slightest sketch of its results need be given here. (For factories and work-shops, see LABOUR LEGISLATION, and for merchant shipping, see SEAMEN.) The Coal Mines Regulation Act 1896 aims at the prevention of accidents due to inflammable gas and coal-dust in coal mines. The Cotton Cloth Factories Acts 1889 and 1897 enable the home secretary to make regulations for health in cotton mills. The Rivers Pollution Prevention (Borders Councils) Act 1398 enables joint committees of English and Scottish county councils of counties on both sides of the Border to exercise the powers of the Rivers Pollution Prevention Act 1876, in relation to any river or tributary which is partly in England and partly in Scotland—an expression including the Tweed. The Notification of Births Act 1907 and the Children Act 1908 (see CHILDREN: Law relating to) have given great protection to infant life. Lastly, reference may be made to the Contagious Diseases (Animals) Act 1894, which consolidated the law on this subject. London.—Down to the year 1891 London was governed in matters of public health by a series of special statutes (especially the Metropolitan Police Acts), and by provisions in the general statutes. The law as to the Metropolis was consolidated, and is now regulated by the Public Health (London) Act 1891. The sanitary authorities for the execution of the act were the commissioners of sewers for the City of London, the vestries of the larger and the district boards of some of the smaller parishes, and varying authorities for Woolwich and some other places. Under the London Government Act 1899, the powers of each existing vestry and district board are transferred to the council of the borough comprising the area within the jurisdiction of such vestry and district board; and the borough councils take over certain of the powers of the county council (e.g. as to dairies, milk, slaughter-houses and offensive businesses) and exercise concurrent jurisdiction with it in other matters. Provision is made for the appointment of medical officers of health and sanitary inspectors. The medical officer is for some purposes placed on the footing of a district poor-law medical officer, and he cannot be removed without the consent of the local government board. In its structure and substance the Public Health (London) Act 1891, which consists of 144 sections, closely resembles the general acts (see LONDON, § iv.). The law of public health in London is also affected by a number of later statutes relating to the Metropolis alone, such as the London Building Acts 1894 and 1898, the Baths and Washhouses Act 1896, the Canals Protection (London) Act 1898, &c. Scotland.—Sanitary legislation occurs as early as the reign of Alexander III. The Statuta Gilde, c. 19, forbade the deposit of dung or ashes in the street, market, or on the banks of the Tweed at Berwick, under a penalty of eight shillings. At a later date the act of 1540, c. 20, enacted that no flesh was to be slain in Edinburgh on the east side of the Leith Wynd; that of 1621, c. 29, fixed the locality of fleshers and candlemakers. The various statutes relating to public health in Scotland are now consolidated and amended by the Public Health (Scotland) Act 1897, which, together with the Infectious Diseases Notification Act 1889 and the Burgh Pclice (Scotland) Act 1892, constitute the statutory law of Scottish sanitary administration. The central authority is the local government board for Scotland. The local authorities are—(i.) in burghs under the Burgh Police (Scotland) Act 1892, the town council or burgh commissioners; (ii.) in other burghs, the town council or board of police; (iii.) in districts where the county is divided into districts, the district committee; (iv.) in counties not so divided, the county council. The substantive provisions are similar to those of the English acts. Ireland.—Several acts of the Irish parliament dealt with specific nuisances, e.g. 5 Geo. III. c. 15, forbidding the laying of filth in the streets of cities or county towns, and making regulations as to sweeping and scavenging. There were also numerous private acts dealing with water-supply and the obstruction of watercourses. In 1878 the existing legislation was consolidated by the Public Health (Ireland) Act 1878, a close copy of the English act of 1875. Most of the English acts apply to Ireland with modifications and adaptations. United States.—After the Civil War boards of health were established in the chief cities. Public health is under the control of the local authorities to a greater extent than in England. By the Act of Congress of the 25th of February 1799 officers of the United States are bound to observe the health laws of the states. A national board of health was created by the act of the 3rd of March 1879, c. 202; and it was succeeded by the Public Health and Marine Hospital Service, whose chief officer is the surgeon-general and which has jurisdiction in quarantine and in epidemics of a peculiarly dangerous nature.
End of Article: LAW OF PUBLIC HEALTH
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