How many of these 19 bizarre UK laws have you broken?
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Taking a beached sturgeon home, drinking too much in the pub, going to a fancy dress party as a soldier and singing the most popular song in the country in a public place: have you broken any strange UK laws recently?
Laws from the 1300s are still in force in Britain and our legal system is the product of centuries of laws being made, changed and overruled.
But some remain despite calls for them to be repealed. And the truth of the matter is, you’re likely to have broken at least a few of these…but which ones?
19 of Britain’s most unusual laws: how many have you broken?
1) All beached whales and sturgeons must be offered to the reigning monarch. King Edward II made this law more than seven centuries ago and it remains the case: whales and sturgeon are considered to be royal fish and if they are in UK waters, they belong to Queen Elizabeth II. She is, however, not hugely keen on receiving gifts of rotting whale and sturgeon carcasses.
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2) It is illegal to be drunk in the pub. Under section 12 of the Licensing Act 1872, “every person found drunk... on any licensed premises, shall be liable to a penalty”. It is also an offence under the Metropolitan Police Act 1839 for the keeper of a public house to permit drunkenness or disorderly conduct on the premises. Furthermore, under the Licensing Act 2003, it is an offence to sell alcohol to a person who is drunk, or to obtain alcohol for consumption by a person who is drunk.
3) It is illegal to handle salmon in suspicious circumstances. This piece of bizarre law was passed in 1986 and is part of a wider law which includes possessing salmon which have been illegally taken, killed or landed. But the way the law is written does make it sound as if you could be apprehended on the way home from the fishmonger.
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4) MPs are not allowed to wear armour in Parliament. Another of Edward II’s laws, this rule was put into place during times of political instability. MPs are fine to wear armour in their constituencies and at home, though.
5) It is illegal to be drunk and in charge of cattle in England and Wales. Rightly so – a large cow can weigh as much, if not more, than a car.
6) It is illegal to activate your burglar alarm without first nominating a key holder who can switch it off in your absence. A key holder should be able to respond within 20 minutes of being called to stop the alarm.
7) It is illegal to impersonate a police officer or a soldier, even at fancy dress parties or on Halloween. According to the Seamen’s and Soldiers’ False Characters Act 1906, and the Police Act 1996, it’s illegal to pretend to be part of the armed forces or the police. If you are caught it could land you with a custodial sentence (if you’re at a fancy dress party, check the arresting officer isn’t just your friend’s Mum dressed up).
8) Under the Town Police Clauses Act 1847, a person cannot keep a pigsty at the front of their property unless it is hidden from public view.
9) Despite being sung by billions of people around the world, ‘Happy Birthday’ is actually under copyright if used for commercial purposes – this is why staff in restaurants often sing an alternative, just in case Warner/Chappell, which own the rights to the song, are listening.
10) Icy windscreen? It’s against the law to drive unless you’ve removed ALL the ice from the whole of your windscreen and not just the viewing area. You can also be fined for failing to clear snow from the roof of your vehicle before you drive.
11) Another technicality: if you lean over to pay with your phone at a drive-through while your car is still running and your handbrake is unlocked, you are technically using your phone while operating a car, which is illegal.
12) Jack Valentine take note: Seen by many as a harmless (if annoying) children’s game, knocking on someone’s door and running away is actually illegal under a 1839 law which makes it an offence to “wilfully and wantonly disturb any inhabitant by pulling or ringing any doorbell or knocking at any door without lawful excuse”.
13) It is illegal to order or permit any servant to stand on the sill of any window to clean or paint it.
14) Here’s a pandemic-relevant law: In London, it is illegal for a person (knowingly) with the plague to flag down a taxi or try and ride on a bus. The law prohibits any person who knows that they have a notifiable disease (including the plague) from entering any form of public conveyance (taxi) without first telling the driver.
15) It is illegal under the terms of the Prohibition and Inspections Act of 1998 to cause a nuclear explosion. Which is good news for all of us.
16) Please do not shake your rug before 8am. According to section 60, subsection three of the Metropolitan Police Act 1854, it is an offence to beat or shake any carpet, rug, or mat before eight in the morning.
17) Until relatively recently, for centuries, women at official Thetford Town Council functions were required to seek the mayor's permission to take their hats off. However men were trusted to use their own judgement and could discard their headwear all on their own. Clever men.
18) It is illegal to fire a cannon within 300 yards of a dwelling.
19) While it isn’t illegal to deliberately destroy a banknote, under the Currency and Banknotes Act 1928, it is an offence to deface a banknote by printing, stamping or writing on it. And the Coinage Act of 1971 also makes it an offence to destroy a metal coin that has been current in the UK since 1969, unless a licence to do so has been granted by the Treasury.