That’s Legal?! A Helpful Guide to Britain’s Most Bizarre Laws

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If the eternal circle-jerking of Brexit negotiations hasn’t clued you in, the British legal system is not the most sensible thing in the world. There are plenty of laws that keep us safe, that ensure our rights are protected and that we are granted a fair judicial process. But there have also been no small number of bizarre laws, many of which were not repealed until the last few centuries, and some of which are still in effect today (though arguably ceremonially, rather than in practice). Here’s a rundown on some of these laughable laws.

The Law: Eating on Christmas Day is illegal.
Repealed?: Yes, after 1644.
If you can believe it, you weren’t actually allowed to eat anything on Christmas Day in 1644. It happened to fall on a fasting day, back in puritan-era England. Luckily this one didn’t last even one year, paving the way nicely for the annual Christmas stuffing.

The Law: It’s illegal to handle salmon in a suspicious way.
Repealed?: Nope!
Under the Salmon Act of 1986, ‘a person shall be guilty of an offence if, at a time when he believes or it would be reasonable for him to suspect that a relevant offence has at any time been committed in relation to salmon, trout, eels, lampreys, smelt and freshwater fish.’  This one will make you think twice about buying anything from that fishmonger with the shifty eyes in Sainsbury’s (other supermarkets with shifty-eyed fishmongers are available).

The Law: In Scotland, it’s illegal to be drunk whilst handling a cow.
Repealed?: Nope!
Brought in during the nineteenth century, this bizarrely specific law still holds today. One would imagine it has everything to do with health and safety, but whether it applies more to the man or to the cow remains to be seen.

The Law: If a man is unintentionally killed by another man felling a tree, the deceased’s family legally own the tree.
Repealed?: Yes, over 1,000 years ago.
This one’s truly historic. Harold the Great’s law code once stated that ‘if a man unintentionally kills another man by letting a tree fall on him, the tree shall be given to the kinsmen of the slain.’ Whilst I’m not entirely sure what catharsis could be achieved by lopping up the murderous tree, it’s good to know that forestry was responsible – if not very safe – even back then.

The Law: Archery groups found guilty of accidentally shooting a pedestrian can be pardoned by the British Monarch.
Repealed?: Officially no!
Okay, so I really do not recommend that you try this out for yourself, but according to Henry VIII’s laws on archery, the accidental maiming of a civilian with a bow and arrow could be relieved with The King’s Pardon. It was also a legal requirement of all men to practice with a bow and arrow regularly, although this rule was repealed in the 1960s’. However, in theory the King’s Pardon has never been officially revoked. That said, pegging a runner on Avenue Campus with a bow and arrow probably won’t earn you Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s good graces.

Know of any other bizarre laws? Ever been caught handling salmon suspiciously? Let us know!

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Edge writer with an axe to grind on the student experience. Admirer of cute doggies.

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