Britain’s ancient statute book

This week a report produced jointly by the Law Commission for England & Wales (LCEW) and the Scottish Law Commission recommends repealing more than 800 pieces of legislation dating from the 14th century onwards in order, according to LCEW chairman Sir James Munby,  “to simplify and modernise our law, making it more intelligible. It saves time and costs for lawyers and others who need to know what the law actually is, and makes it easier for citizens to access justice. We are committed to ridding the statute book of meaningless provisions from days gone by and making sure our laws are relevant to the modern world.”

Here’s where the fun starts, though – some of those laws include:

  • turnpike legislation that “has served no useful purpose for at least 260 years”
  • the possibility for tradespeople to recover debts of up to £5
  • Dick Whittington’s almshouses (see story with cat if you’re not familiar with it!)
  • the construction of Indian railways in the 1800s
  • a 1799 Act authorizing the parish of St Mary-le-Bow to sell rental properties in order to fund public afternoon lectures
  • the 1688 Newcastle-upon-Tyne Court of Conscience Act
  • an act authorizing the governors of the French Hospital to grant building leases over the hospital’s 4.5 acres of garden or yards in Bath Street. The powers conferred by this 1808 Act ceased to be exercisable once the hospital vacated its Bath Street premises in 1865…

The book Strange laws of old England also gives some lovely examples of outlandish legislation – the first one is particularly suitable for this Easter period (meat OK, but what about chocolate…)

In 1336 it was against the law for men to have more than 2 courses at a meal to safeguard against obesity. This law was laid down by Edward III (enforced by Edward IV and Henry VIII). Many other laws governed the non-consumption of meat on a Friday and Saturday, excessive eating and drinking and during Lent.

Elizabeth I was responsible for the law that banned women from using cosmetics to lead a man into marriage. This included false hair, make-up, false hips(?) and high-heeled shoes. (She’d have a fit if she was around today..!)

In 1978, Denis Pamphilon was threatened with the death penalty for making souvenir bedspreads to celebrate the Scottish football team’s appearance in the World Cup. Mr Pamphilon was charged for usurpation of the Queen’s Scottish Arms (the lion rampant) under a law of 1592 which had never been repealed.

2 thoughts on “Britain’s ancient statute book

  1. Pingback: Monday smiles – Crackpot UK laws « From Words to Deeds: translation & the law

  2. Pingback: Monday smile – Salmon handling under suspicious circumstances | From Words to Deeds: translation & the law

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