History, Rights, World

Britain Prunes Silly Laws on Salmon Handling and Armour Wearing

It is not a great idea to carry a plank of wood down a busy sidewalk. Nor should you ride a horse while drunk, or handle a salmon under suspicious circumstances.

But should such antics be illegal? Still?

Thanks to centuries of legislating by Parliament, which bans the wearing of suits of armor in its chambers, Britain has accumulated many laws that nowadays seem irrelevant, and often absurd.

So voluminous and eccentric is Britain’s collective body of 44,000 pieces of primary legislation that it has a small team of officials whose sole task is to prune it.

Their work is not just a constitutional curiosity, but a bulwark against hundreds of years of lawmaking running out of control.

Over the centuries, rules have piled up to penalize those who fire a cannon within 300 yards of a dwelling and those who beat a carpet in the street — unless the item can be classified as a doormat and it is beaten before 8.00am.

To have a legal situation where there is so much information that you cannot sit down and comprehend it, does seem to me a serious problem, said Andrew Lewis, professor emeritus of comparative legal history at University College London. I think it matters dreadfully that no one can get a handle on the whole of it.

Yet, as Professor Lewis also noted, many old laws have survived because crime and bad behaviour have, too.

One reason is that human nature doesn’t change much, Professor Lewis said, though of course the institutions which we develop to protect, organize, and govern ourselves do change, and then it becomes necessary to adjust the existing law to practice — via redwolf.newsvine.com

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One Comment


  1. Red Wolf

    25 January 2016 at 2.02 pm

    Sifting out the obsolete legislation is the work of two lawyers and a researcher at Britain’s Law Commission, which is responsible for reviewing laws and recommending changes.

    Thanks to them, more than 200 measures are scheduled to be repealed next year, including some — but not all — of a law dating to 1267.

    Among those set to go are many church laws (including one from a 1536 act authorizing the extension of a London graveyard), and a variety of acts related to British colonial rule in India. These include the India Steam Ship Company Act of 1838, which has been in force for 177 years, although there is no evidence that the shipping firm established through the act ever started work.

    So extensive is the statute book that the Law Commission has published a guide debunking some more far-fetched urban myths about it.

    My favourite was the legal requirement to carry out at least two hours of longbow practice a week. Alas, it was repealed in 1960 after 500 years: The Unlawful Games Act 1541 required every Englishman between the ages of 17 and 60 (with various exemptions) to keep a longbow and regularly practise archery. However, this Act was repealed by the Betting and Gaming Act 1960. Disappointed!

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