Crazy British Laws That Are Still in Force (Officially)


Nov 06, 2014 by British Blog

In India, the government is about to have a major clear out of old laws. Some of the laws enacted by the British in the days of the Raj are officially still in force, and they are causing problems when it comes to business. Currently, India is ranked 134 out of 189 countries for 'ease of doing business' and the administration hopes that streamlining the law will improve that situation and encourage inward investment.

Therefore, Indians will soon bid farewell to the Treasure Trove Act of 1848, under which any treasure that is dug up, even if it is only worth 10 rupees (10 pence), officially belongs to the British monarch. Property owners in part of Calcutta will, for the first time, legally be able to sell their homes to somebody other than the East India Company, which is handy, since the East India Company ceased to exist 150 years ago. In all, nearly 300 laws will be repealed.


Good idea?

Since repealing outdated laws is likely to be advantageous to India, perhaps we should do the same in the UK? For we, too, have many strange laws, as the following examples show:

  • It is illegal to gamble in a library (Library Offences Act, 1898).
  • Putting a stamp on a letter, with the monarch's head facing upside-down, is officially an act of treason (Treason Felony Act, 1848).
  • Any whale caught in the UK is officially the Queen's property. This law, which arises from the King's Prerogative of 1322, is actually not as random as it may at first appear. Women used to wear corsets made from whalebone, thus the queen at any given time would claim the tail of the whale with the intention of having the bone made into corsets.
  • It is officially still illegal to eat mince pies on Christmas Day, thanks to that fun-loving Oliver Cromwell.
  • MPs are not allowed to wear armour in the Houses of Parliament, under a statute of 1313. Again, this seems very odd but at the time was not: in fourteenth century England, Parliament was intended to be a peaceful place, in contrast to the many skirmishes and disputes outside. Wearing armour would have been taken as a sign of warmongering or as incitement to violence.
  • In Scotland, the law decrees that you must allow anybody who asks to use your lavatory, to do so.
  • Under the Town Police Clauses Act, 1847, UK residents may not beat a doormat after eight in the morning, nor may they sing obscene songs or "wantonly disturb" people by ringing their doorbells.
  • It is illegal to stand within 100 yards of the British monarch if you are not wearing socks.
  • Borrowing money from a stranger is classed as begging, and is therefore illegal, under the Vagrancy Act, 1824.


Not alone

The UK is not alone in having some daft laws. In France, women technically need police permission to wear trousers in public, unless they are riding a horse or bicycle. In New Jersey, it is officially illegal to drive a car in the dark unless somebody walks ahead, carrying a lamp. We should probably all take a leaf out of the Indian Government's book and get rid of these ancient statutes!