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Strange & Curious British Laws Strange & Curious British Laws

Strange & Curious British Laws

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Myths and Legends

Every county in the world seems to have a collection of strange laws that are bizarre, outdated or just plain wrong, even to the people who live there. Britain is no exception and it quite probable that you may have already heard of some of these as the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) held a competition some years ago to see which of these laws the public felt were the most stupid.

Sadly, the time has come to sort out the wheat from the chaff. (Truth from the nonsense) There are many lists circulating on the internet that claim to be true but are not but are the result of one website just repeating another. The truth is that some of the laws are now repealed, others have twisted the actual law to make it more interesting and some are simply urban myths. This is what we found out but we're still open to correction if you have hard evidence.

MP’s are not allowed to wear armour in parliament.   It turns out that this a true. The 1313 Statute [Coming armed to Parliament]: The Act forbids the wearing of armour by members of Parliament when attending in the House and has never been repealed.

It is still an offence to beat or shake any carpet rug or mat in any street in the Metropolitan Police District, although you are allowed to shake a doormat before 8am.     Strangely, this law actually turned out to be true under the Metropolitan Police Act 1839, section 60 and for other districts; Town Police Clauses Act 1847, section 28. The following five laws were also initiated by the same section 28 and are still in force.  

It is illegal to keep a pigsty in front of your house (Unless duly hidden).

It is illegal to erect a washing line across any street.  

It is illegal to sing any profane or obscene song or ballad in any street.  

It is illegal to wilfully and wantonly disturb people by ringing their doorbells or knocking at their doors - Even if it has a cute name like Ding Dong Ditch, Knock Knocky or Ring and Run.  

It is illegal to order or permit any servant to stand on the sill of any window to clean or paint it.  

It is an offence for the keeper of a place of public resort to permit drunkenness in the house. Further, under the Licensing Act 2003, section 140, it is an offence to allow disorderly conduct and under section 141 it is an offence to sell alcohol to an intoxicated person. (LCSLPR*)  However, urban myth often describes this law as: It is illegal to be drunk in a public house. No ... you're allowed to get drunk it's actually the pub owner who is liable to get into trouble. Well that's a relief.  

The Easter Act 1928 provides that, in the United Kingdom, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, Easter Day shall be a fixed day in each year, viz. the first Sunday after the second Saturday in April. The Act has been on the statute book for 62 years but has never been brought into force. (LCSLPR*).  

Under the Metropolitan Police Act 1839 no person (other than persons acting in obedience to lawful authority) is to discharge any cannon or other firearm of greater calibre than a common fowling-piece within 300 yards of any dwelling house to the annoyance of any inhabitant thereof. Maximum penalty: £200 fine. (LCSLPR*)  

An employer cannot give a (subjective) bad reference as this may constitute libel. They can choose not to give one at all or be non committal, but they can't give a bad one.     This is largely true but more complicated than the legal shorthand that often gets quoted. An employer can provide whatever reference they like but should not say anything that is negative that they would not be prepared to defend in court-of-law as the recipient of the reference has the right to sue for defamation of character or plain libel. As the libel laws of Britain are quite strict, employers often opt for the simple don't say anything bad approach.  

The Metropolitan Streets Act 1867 prohibits the driving or conducting of any cattle through any street between the hours of 10.00 in the morning and 7.00 in the evening (except with the permission of the Commissioner of Police). The maximum penalty is a £200 fine for each head of cattle. (LCSLPR*)  

It is illegal to eat Mute Swan unless you're the Queen of Great Britain. The Queen and two livery companies (Vitners and Dryers) own all the Mute Swans in England and only the Queen and her invited diners may actually eat them as can guests of St. John's College Cambridge.     This is strictly speaking true but much more complicated than it seems and has a great deal to do with which swans are marked and which are unmarked. In particular, the Mute Swan is officially a protected species and therefore nobody is legally allowed to kill them for the purpose of eating them. Mute swans are protected under the wildlife and countryside act of 1981. Anyone found guilty of killing them faces a £5,000 fine or up to six months in prison. We're not sure if this law applies to the ruling monarch of the United Kingdom.

It is illegal to use a television in Britain without a license.     The BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) is a state-based entity that provides a national and international broadcasting service. It is largely funded by the license fee which allows it to put standards of programming ahead of purely commercial interests and makes possible the production of programmes that would not be otherwise financially viable. Even so, the question of whether there should be a license fee remains a hotly debated topic.  

It is an offense to be intoxicated (drunk) and in charge of a cow in Scotland. The law is part of the (alcohol) Licensing Act of 1872 and actually also includes horses and steam engines. It allegedly carries a penalty fine of up to 1,200 GBP excluding the costs of looking after the cow, horse, etc.  

Under the terms of the Protection of Wrecks Order 2003: A person shall not enter the hull of the Titanic without permission from the Secretary of State.  

Under the terms of the Polish Potatoes (Notification) in England Order - 2004: No person shall, in the course of business, import into England potatoes which he knows to be or has reasonable cause to suspect to be Polish potatoes.  

It is apparently an offense to activate your burglar alarm and leave the property if you haven't nominated a key-holder who can access your house to switch off your siren should it go off. This is apparently a fairly recent addition to British law and was established under the terms of the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act - 2005 / Part 7.  

Under the terms of a bye-law it is illegal to "Jump" the queue in the tube ticket hall. Any person directed by a notice to queue (or when asked to queue by an authorised person) shall join the rear of the queue and obey the reasonable instructions of any authorised person.  

All beached whales and sturgeons must be offered to the reigning monarch. The original law which is now largely defunct stated: "The King shall have throughout the realm, whales and great sturgeons taken in the sea or elsewhere within the realm, except in certain places privileged by the King." This clearly included any of these creatures that were stranded or found dead on a beach that was not exempt from this ruling (for example private land). The rule was taken to mean that whales and sturgeons should first be offered to the king who could then decide what should be done with them. Naturally, the Monarch was often busy and it fell to the "Receiver of Wreck" to decide on his behalf.  In practice the Receiver of Wreck no longer offers the whale to the Monarch and doesn't expect to have beached whales reported to his office. However, he still does offer all sturgeons. In reality all beached whales or strandings should be reported to the Natural History Museum - although in practice you are likely to get a faster response from the local police. This should not be confused with "Sturgeon's Laws" which are similar to some of the "Murphy's Laws" and states: (1) "Nothing is always absolutely so" and (2) "Ninety percent of everything is crud" or "Ninety percent of everything is crap."

A horn should not be sounded when stationary on a road at anytime, other than at times of danger due to another vehicle on or near the road.   While this is true it only makes this list because it is quoted so often. In fact,"A horn should only be used when warning someone of danger, not to indicate your annoyance at a manner of driving" ... whether or not the car is parked. This is a standard requirement in many countries. https://www.askthe.police.uk/content/Q406.htm  

In London, it is illegal for a person (knowingly) with the plague to flag down a taxi or try and ride on a bus. (Sort of True)     This is somewhat true as the law prohibits any person who knows that they have a notifiable disease (including the plague) from entering any form of public conveyance (taxi) without first telling the driver of the conveyance. Actually, the taxi driver can then still agree to transport them so long as he (or she) then has the taxi immediately disinfected. This is part of the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984, sections 33 and 34: Public Conveyances. Some of the other notifiable diseases listed do indeed include, plague, rabies, food poisoning and leprosy.  However, when it comes to notifiable diseases and busses just forget it as it is against the law for a bus driver to allow you onboard. We're not sure if it infringes his or her human rights to try and stop you as by doing so will knowingly expose him or her to your disease? Curious law!  

A person shall be guilty of an offence if he uses for trade an automatic rail-weighbridge to which there is affixed a disqualification sticker.  Seriously, who cares!  

It is illegal for a cab in the City of London to carry rabid dogs or corpses.     See point 22 for the section on rabies. However it is worth adding that where this occurs the responsibility becomes that of the dog's owner assuming that he or she doesn't yet have rabies themselves in which case whether or not the dog (dead or alive) becomes irrelevant. On the subject of corpses this law is unclear. There are many cases of a person dying while travelling in a taxi but no known cases of the taxi driver suddenly stopping and dragging the poor recently deceased person out of the taxi and tossing them onto the pavement. This sounds like a twisting of the facts. There may be some laws that corpse that haven't died in transit may have to be moved only in a special vehicle such as a hearse or an ambulance. We'll look into it.

It is illegal to avoid telling the tax man anything you do not want him to know, but legal not to tell him information you do not mind him knowing.     Again ... this is somewhat true but the actual law has had its wording twisted to make it seem funnier. The actual law require a person to disclose schemes that are deliberately designed to avoid tax which would otherwise be due to the HM Customs and Revenue. It is an oversimplification of the Tax Avoidance Scheme 2006, S.I. 2006 No 1543. (LCSLPR*)

It is illegal under the terms of the Prohibition and Inspections Act of 1998 to cause a nuclear explosion.     Well ... that's a pretty good idea! But ... why it had to be a special law though is a mystery. 

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