Written by Roy Turse
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Topics: Law, mythology

Friday, 6 April 2012

image for Strange Old English Laws: Real or Myth?
Strange Laws: In Norfolk a man can still beat his wife as long as it is only with his thumb

The Law Commission has proposed the abolition of 800 antiquated laws, but there is a wealth of mythology about what is and isn't illegal.

For instance, it is well known that urinating in a public building is an offence. And yet by sticking a drawing of a couple of people on the door, the law is bypassed, and urination is positively encouraged.

Did you know that it is still illegal to practice archery in a school playground during playtime? Or to set fire to a protestant on a Sunday? In fact in some parts of the country it is illegal to set fire to anyone on a Sunday! According to one ancient law, it is also illegal to drink a pint of gin while driving a car; obviously a throwback to the bad old days when people would think nothing of riding an inebriated horse.

Lauren Ordeur from the Commission, says that correcting some of these legal anomalies is her remit. "It's mad that according to the letter of the law, you're not allowed to buy a mince pie on Christmas Day, just because it's past its sell-by date by a few months."

But, she says, some of the laws are not so clear cut. "The statute that says you can be convicted of treason for stamping on the Queen is one which will need to be debated, as will the law that forbids overthrowing the elected government by armed force during Lent. But these grey areas are few and far between - most of the laws concerned are just daft."

Take the one about Welshmen in the city of Chester. Under the current law, a Welshman who steals a sheep within the city walls can be arrested and thrown into prison. However, if it is outside the city walls and he merely waves to the sheep, he is allowed to go on his way without let or hindrance. Just for being Welsh.

Some of our antiquated laws are less ridiculous, and dictate what you must do, rather than what you must not. At the top of this list is the well-known London Taxi rule which dates back to when taxis were horse-drawn. An ancient byelaw means it is only legal for a Taxi driver to cross London Bridge if he has Christian Bale in the boot of his cab. Or at a push it can be Gareth Bale.

There is also a law that says if you buy anything, sell anything or earn anything you have to pay a fine to the government as punishment. Believe it or not, you may even be liable to pay a fine when you die! Most people just ignore these ludicrous laws, and think of them in the same way as the laws about derailing trains or running a brothel.

But some of the strange laws people believe are true and are regularly mentioned whenever the subject is discussed, are in fact myths. Contrary to popular belief, it has never been against the law to use a hosepipe in a drought or to say something ignorant on a social networking website. Neither is it illegal to park your car, just because somebody has painted coloured lines on the road or put up a sign with a flyover on it.

So next time you are considering something as disgusting as urinating in a public convenience or you simply want to download movies or music from the Internet during the hours of darkness, consider whether it is actually against the law, or whether it may just be a myth. You wouldn't want to end up like Nigel Scrimmings from Halifax. He is currently serving a two year jail term, not for failing to practice with a longbow every weekend, but for aggravated assault committed during a leap year.

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The story above is a satire or parody. It is entirely fictitious.

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