In 2008, UKTV Gold held a poll of the stupidest laws, presumably based on Nigel Cawthorne’s book “The Strange Laws of Old England”. (BBC)
The laws are reprinted as fact on various sites:
It is illegal to die in the Houses of Parliament.
- “We’re not aware of any such law. It’s tied up with the convention that, if somebody does die, they’re under the jurisdiction of the coroner of the Royal Household.” ~ House of Commons spokesperson (BBC)
- At least four men have died on the grounds of Parliment. (Law Commission)
It is an act of treason to place a postage stamp bearing the British monarch upside-down.
In Liverpool, it is illegal for a woman to be topless except as a clerk in a tropical fish store.
- “It’s something that has been heard of before and does crop up from time to time, but it is absurd. It is a myth and totally made up. It has no basis in fact.” ~ Liverpool City Council spokesman (The Telegraph).
Mince pies cannot be eaten on Christmas Day.
- Claimed to be a law created by Oliver Cromwell. (Telegraph)
- The Law Commission says none of the 11 laws that remain on the books that Cromwell created, none relate to mince pies. (BBC)
- In 1644 Christmas Day coincidentally fell on a legally-mandated day of fasting. (Law Commission)
- An Ordinance for Abolishing of Festivals 1647 banned all Christmas celebrations (not just Mince Pies), but was made invalid following the Restitution. (Law Commission)
In Scotland, if someone knocks on your door and requires the use of your toilet, you must let them enter.
- The Law Commission says it “cannot find evidence that it was on the statute book” (BBC)
In the UK a pregnant woman can legally relieve herself anywhere she wants, including in a policeman’s helmet.
- The Public Order Act 1986 labels it disorderly behaviour for anyone to urinate in public (if it is witnessed).
- The Law Commission says that police may make an exception for pregnant women. (BBC)
- Police helmets have vents hidden under the rose at the top and are not watertight.
- Despite the fact that it is untrue, a petition existed (but failed to get enough signatures) to have the law repelled because it is an insult to male officers. (Telegraph)
7. (3.5%) The
head of any dead whale found on the British coast automatically becomes the property of the King, and the tail to the Queen.
- Whales and sturgeon are property of the monarch (Prerogativa Regis. Of the King’s Prerogative 1322).
- “The head… becomes the property of the King, and the tail to the Queen” is ridiculous. It probably originated in the myth spread by Blackstone’s Commentaries that the tailbone went to the Queen for her corset stays, however, whalebone for corsets is actually found it the whale’s mouth. (Law Commission)
- A 2004 incident in which fisherman Robert Davis accidentally caught and it was auctioned at the fish market in Plymouth, Devon. He first offered it to the Queen, but it was declined. However, it is a European protected species and was confiscated and donated to the National History Museum. (BBC)
8. (3%) It is illegal not to tell the tax man anything you do not want him to know, but legal not to tell him information you do not mind him knowing.
- Section 7 of the Tax Avoidance Schemes (Prescribed Descriptions of Arrangements) Regulations 2006 makes it illegal to keep a tax avoidance scheme illegal.
9. It is illegal to enter the Houses of Parliament in a suit of armour.
- A Statue forbidding Bearing of Armour 1313.
- This actually doesn’t sound like a stupid law.
- However, it was a requirement for the Queen’s Champion.
In the city of York it is legal to murder a Scotsman within the ancient city walls, but only if he is carrying a bow and arrow.
- The Law Commission states that even if it was once true (and it can find no evidence it was) that it has been made illegal by criminal law since. (Law Commission)
RESULTS: 1/10 correct (10%); 2/10 misrepresentations (20%).
Only one is an actual law.
Two are misrepresentations. Now, sure, it can be argued with that makes them true or not, but the phone poll for the “stupidest law” would have been skewed by the stupider wording.
Seven are myths.
Of course, it makes the poll results a nonsense, with at least 55% of the votes for mythical laws. Of course, the stupider the laws on the list, the less likely you are to get people paying for vote calls.
NOTE: The UK Law Commission is noted as not having found some of the above, which may have some suggesting that they possibly exist. However, it should be noted that the Law Commission was created to reform laws, and frequently suggests “out of date laws” to be repelled (and has had 2000 removed since established in 1965), so if anyone could find the laws it would be them. It also should be noted that for a law to be enforced it has to be findable.