It’s pretty easy to hoax people. We all want to be deceived, but only up to a point. Some hoaxes are fun and pleasant, others malicious and unpleasant. We’d like a way to tell the difference (Robert Carroll).

Feb 12, 2009

20 Strange and Funny UK Laws

In 1965, the United Kingdom began to update its legal system. Over two thousand obsolete, outdated and strange laws have been repealed since then, but plenty of funny laws are still on the books today.

Below are 20 randomly chosen strange U.K. laws.

1. Dying is illegal in the Houses of Parliaments.
A law prohibiting anyone from dying while inside the Houses of Parliament has been voted as the most ridiculous law by the British citizens.

2. Put Stamps properly.
Placing a postage stamp bearing the monarch’s head upside down on an envelope is considered as act of treason.

Also, defacing or destroying anything bearing a likeness of the monarch is illegal. This includes burning paper money or tearing a stamp apart.

3. The Library Offences Act of 1898 makes it illegal to gamble in a library.
The law also prohibits obscene or abusive language. Misbehavior carries a fine of Ј200.

4. No cannons or bear-baiting.
The Metropolitan Police Act of 1839 states that no one, “except persons acting in obedience to lawful authority, may discharge any cannon or other firearm of greater caliber than a common fowling-piece, within 300 yards of any dwelling house, to the annoyance of any inhabitant thereof”.

Under the same Act, those who “keep or use or act in the management of any house, room, pit or other place for the purpose of fighting or baiting lions, bears or other animals” can be fined Ј2,500.

5. Scolding was illegal for almost 400 years.
A law passed in 1585, making it illegal for women to “cause a nuisance with abusive or argumentative language”. A woman guilty of scolding had to wear a scold’s bridle, or metal cage, enclosing her head. The Criminal Law Act of 1967 finally abolished the punishment, and women may now scold freely.

6. Trespassing is illegal, except by huers and baulkers.
An Act of 1603 comes from an ancient custom in Cornwall. People known as “huers and baulkers” would stand on the cliffs and shout to fishing boats, directing them toward schools of fish. The Act gives those on the cliffs the right of entry onto the lands of others, and a defense against trespassing.

7. The Town Police Clauses Act of 1847 threatens a Ј1,000 fine for hanging washing across the street.
Beating or shaking carpets, rugs or mats is also illegal. Doormats may be beaten, but not after eight in the morning.

This Act also outlaws the singing of profane or obscene songs or ballads, wantonly discharging firearms, making bonfires, flying kites, sliding on ice or snow, extinguishing a lamp or willfully and wantonly disturbing residents by ringing their doorbells.

8. It is illegal for two adult men to have sex in the same house as a third person.
Henry VIII outlawed homosexuality in 1533. "Molly houses" began to appear in England in the late 16th century. These brothels offered gay men a place to have sex, and also catered to sado-masochistic and transvestite tastes. Lawmakers saw molly houses as a threat to public morality. Police monitored the houses to entrap male prostitutes, especially during the 1840’s, as Victorian moral standards rose.

9. The Queen’s Corset
From a statute of 1324 called the Prerogativa Regis, any whale or sturgeon found on the United Kingdom coastline, or caught in seas adjoining the coast, must be offered to the Crown.

Traditionally, the head belongs to the King. The tail goes “to furnish the Queen’s wardrobe with whalebone” for her corsets. These days, in practice, the Natural History Museum deals with beached whales.

All wild deer, swans and bears are also the property of the royal family.

10. One may not drive a cow while drunk.
The Licensing Act of 1872 explains that operating a horse, cow or steam engine while intoxicated carries a prison sentence or a Ј200 fine.

11. London hackney carriages must carry a bale of hay and a sack of oats.
The London Hackney Carriage Laws have stayed the same for over a hundred years, and still apply to modern-day taxis. The oats and hay were for the horse, of course. Disputes still arise, and some firms have manufactured tiny bales of hay, so taxi drivers can stay within the law.

In London, it is illegal for a person with the Plague to flag down a taxi. No cab may carry corpses or rabid dogs.

12. Ancient security laws.
A lot of the laws refer to medieval wars such as the conflicts that England had with Scotland or Wales hundreds of years ago, and are to do with the fact that no foreigner during these times was ever seen in the country, so that if one were to be seen then it might mean they were invading. Here are some more bizarre laws:

In York it is perfectly legal to shoot a Scotsman with a crossbow upon seeing one, except for on Sundays. However any Scotsman caught drunk or with a weapon can still be shot on a Sunday, except with a bow and arrow.

Similarly in Chester it is legal to shoot a Welsh person with a crossbow, as long as it is within the city walls and is done after midnight.

In Chester, Welsh people aren’t allowed to enter the city grounds before sunrise and from staying after sunset.

13. Some kind laws towards women.
In London it has been illegal for a man to hit his wife after 9pm. Indeed, wife also needs some time for rest. This law is very humanistic.

By law it is legal for a pregnant woman to relieve herself anywhere she wishes.

14. The eating of Mince pies on Christmas day is illegal.
It was once also illegal to celebrate Christmas altogether because it wasn’t considered puritan enough even though it was a religious celebration.

15. Do not pretend you are older than you are.
It is illegal to impersonate old age pensioners in the London area of Chelsea.

16. Your pet should behave as well.
It is an executable offense to allow your pet to mate with a pet of the royal house without permission.

17. It is illegal to leave your car keys in an unoccupied vehicle.

18. Suicide is a capital crime.

19. It is illegal to either shave, work or to mow your lawn on a Sunday.

20. Tarot card readings and fortune telling are illegal as these are classed as forms of witchcraft.

Additional Reading:


Tom Evans said...

Some of these are not sourced so I can't check them, but if you check the 'as amended' versions of the Acts given, for example on Westlaw or Statute Law Database, it is clear that most of these offences have been repealed. (For example the Library Offences Act is still partly in force, but there is a gap where the gambling offence was repealed by the Gambling Act 2005).

The death penalty was abolished for all offences in 1998 so 16 and 18 are certainly wrong, and attempting suicide is no longer a crime by way of the Suicide Act 1961.

Auto Accident Attorney Houston, Texas said...

nice list! These are really funny. I specially like the wife beating law.

Anonymous said...

Don't be deceived: almost none of them is correct.

A lawyer

Anonymous said...

You misunderstood No. 15. It is that you must not impersonate a "Chelsea pensioner". That is rather different than saying you are not allowed to pretend you are older than you are.

A Chelsea Pensioner is a former member of the British Army located in Chelsea.

So you may want to change how you wrote that as what you wrote has no resemblance to the actual law.

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