Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Britain's 10 most ludicrous laws

The BBC has list of Britain's 10 most ludicrous pieces of legislation, as voted for in a poll run by UKTV Gold.

It may soon need revising, because there were 29 new bills promised in the Queen's Speech today. But for the time being here is the Top 10 (with the percentage voting for each law):
  1. It is illegal to die in the Houses of Parliament (27%)
  2. It is an act of treason to place a postage stamp bearing the British king or queen's image upside-down (7%)
  3. It is illegal for a woman to be topless in Liverpool except as a clerk in a tropical fish store (6%)
  4. Eating mince pies on Christmas Day is banned (5%)
  5. If someone knocks on your door in Scotland and requires the use of your toilet, you are required to let them enter (4%)
  6. In the UK a pregnant woman can legally relieve herself anywhere she wants, including in a policeman's helmet (4%)
  7. The head of any dead whale found on the British coast automatically becomes the property of the King, and the tail of the Queen (3.5%)
  8. It is illegal not to tell the tax man anything you do not want him to know, but legal not to tell him information you do not mind him knowing (3%)
  9. It is illegal to enter the Houses of Parliament wearing a suit of armour (3%)
  10. It is legal to murder a Scotsman within the ancient city walls of York, but only if he is carrying a bow and arrow (2%)
The BBC also gives an international Top 10. Highlights include:
  • In Ohio, it is illegal to get a fish drunk;
  • Women in Vermont must obtain written permission from their husbands to wear false teeth.


Anonymous said...

It is quite bizarre how this silly season filler feature (I think it originates in the Times on 15 August) is still rumbling on four months later.

At the severe risk of sounding completely humourless, as the nonsence of the Diana inquest continues to roll on, isn't there a certain irony that the "most ridiculous" law is actually a bizarre misunderstanding of a genuinely anachronistic law still on the statue books.

The 1887 Coroners Act, reenacted by the 1988 Coroners Act, created a separate Coroner of the Queens Household. He still has to hold the inquest into the death of anyone whose body is lying "within the limits of any of the Queen's palaces; or within the limits of any other house where Her Majesty is then residing."

As Parliament is still classed as a Royal Palace, any death of an MP would in theory have required members of the Royal Household to sit as the coroner's jury. As this would have raised all sorts of questions of Parliamentary privilege, the polite convention arose that no Parliamentarian dies until they are safely in the ambulance to St Thomas's.

Anonymous said...

I agree. Given the rubbish and sensationalist nature of journalism in this country, if one finds a story like this, one must always ask "what are the real facts behind it?". These supposedly ludicrous laws may sound funny, but we know similar twisting of stories and things taken out of context is frequently used in the press to knock local government and the European Union, for example.

Stories of ludicrous laws have been a filler in newspapers for many years. In most cases, if one gets to the bottom of it, one finds there is not a law which states what the ha-ha bit in the press says. It may turn out to be an interpretation which was drawn out by some particular legal case as we have a case law system, or as Robert noted in one case, a convention which isn't actually legislation.

Would it really be too much to expect people who retail items like this to give references? Now we have the web, references to the original legislation could probably be found, and we could judge whether the journalists' interpretation really stands up to the facts. As a university lecturer, one of the most basic things I teach my students is that if you claim a fact in your writing, you must give your reference. Why do we accept journalists being unable to live up to the standards we expect 18 year olds to keep to?

Paul Linford said...

Some rather pompous comments on what was essentially a rather light-hearted post, methinks.

Meanwhile - does anyone remember who the last MP was who actually did die in the Commons Chamber and for whom the St Thomas' Hospital fiction was applied? Unless anyone can think of a more recent example, I think it was probably the Welsh Office Minister Michael Roberts, who died on February 10, 1983.