DCSIMG

From urinating in a policeman's hat to wearing your sandals near to the Queen, this country has a host of bizarre legal offences

SPOTTING a grey squirrel in your back garden might seem like a stroke of luck to any nature lover – but if it happens to you, you may be a step away from breaking the law.

Failing to report grey squirrels in your garden, it turns out, is illegal. So is being drunk in charge of a cow.

Neither of these laws, one has to assume, tend to be strictly enforced these days – although there may be a farmer out there who is fond of his ale who wishes to contradict this.

They are, though, among a raft of laws – many of them historic ones – that remain on the statute books after centuries, which seem ridiculous to modern eyes.

On top of them are other needless laws which hinder rather than help society.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has launched a drive to banish both types, inviting people across the UK to nominate needless laws and excessive regulations which should be ditched.

A special website has been set up and the most popular of these crazy laws will be taken up with the departments concerned.

There are plenty more examples of daft legislation which go a long way to proving the law is an ass.

The offence of being drunk in charge of a cow still apparently exists in Scotland.

Fans of mince pies, though, should count their blessings that they don't live south of the Border, as eating the sweet treats on Christmas Day is still banned in England under a law brought in by Oliver Cromwell in the 17th century.

LUDICROUS LAWS?

• It is illegal to die in the Houses of Parliament

• It is an act of treason to place a postage stamp bearing the Queen's image upside-down

• It is illegal to enter the Houses of Parliament wearing a suit of armour

• Eating mince pies on Christmas Day is banned in England

• A pregnant woman can legally relieve herself anywhere she wants

Some other sage advice: leave your armour at home if you ever visit the Palace of Westminster.

A law passed in 1313 makes it illegal to enter the Houses of Parliament in a suit of armour. Bizarrely, it is also illegal to die there – allegedly because anyone who dies in parliament is technically entitled to a state funeral and the authorities once wanted to guard against such potential expense.

In York, it is still said to be legal to shoot a Scotsman on sight with a bow and arrow, except on Sundays. No-one has put that to the test for hundreds of years, but you may want to take your armour if you visit just in case.

Among these ancient and obscure laws which seem to threaten our safety and liberty, there are some which could come in useful.

For example, a pregnant woman can legally relieve herself anywhere she wants – even in a policeman's hat.

It is apparently legal for a male to urinate in public, as long it is on the rear wheel of his motor vehicle and his right hand is on the vehicle.

There is also seemingly a law that if someone knocks on your door in Scotland and requires the use of your toilet, you must let them enter.

These are things that may be worth knowing ahead of a long car journey through the Highlands. However, if you are passing Balmoral, you might be best advised not to wear your sandals. It appears still to be illegal to stand within 100 yards of a ruling monarch if you are not wearing any socks.

It is also against the law to allow your pet to fornicate with any pet of the royal household.

Mr Clegg believes letting dormant laws accumulate on the statute book sends out the "wrong signal".

Ideas submitted in the online consultation process will be taken into account in the drafting of a Freedom Bill to be published this autumn.

Many outdated laws have been culled over the years, although some stayed around for a surprisingly long time.

A law passed in 1585 making it illegal for women to "cause a nuisance with abusive or argumentative language" and prescribing that a woman guilty of scolding had to wear a scold's bridle, or metal cage, enclosing her head, was finally abolished in 1967.

More recently, in 2002, the Scottish Executive got MSPs to ban fur-farming in Scotland – even though there were no fur farms here.

Just this week, the Scottish Parliament's petitions committee backed calls to ban the use of pit ponies – eight years after Scotland's last underground coal mine closed.

Professor Kenneth Norrie, head of the law school at Strathclyde University, is not convinced it really matters if there are outdated laws still lying around, unless there is a particular problem.

"When I heard about this initiative, it struck me it was a bit of a wasted exercise," he says. "Civil servants will be able to advise ministers which laws are causing a nuisance by being there."

Experts say Scotland has fewer ridiculous laws than England because of the different legal traditions.

Scotland relies more on common law and decisions in individual cases play a crucial role in shaping the interpretation of the law in future cases.

"It allows the law to develop in an intelligent way because it is constantly updated by case law," says one lawyer.

"That's partly why Scots law has such an excellent reputation. If there is a case decided today, it then becomes precedent and I can then go into court in a few weeks and quote that case."

A word of warning, though. If you do decide to nominate your favourite ridiculous rule, then you should perhaps go online, or at least be very careful when you prepare to post the letter. Placing a postage stamp bearing the monarch's head upside down on an envelope is still technically an act of treason.

The Your Freedom website is at www.hmg.gov.uk/yourfreedom

 
 
 

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