How many of these 19 bizarre UK laws have you broken?

Lady Justice statue wearing a blindfold and carrying a beam balance and sword

The UK boasts some truly bizarre laws: how many have you broken? - Credit: Pixabay

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But some remain despite calls for them to be repealed.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?

A sturgeon lies on a beach

This sturgeon belongs to Queen Elizabeth II - Credit: Pixabay

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.

Drinkers are seating at beer barrels in a pub

Drinking in a pub - Credit: Pixabay


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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.

In a manipulated image a bear bursts out of a picture frame to catch a salmon

It is fair to say this bear is acting suspiciously with a salmon - Credit: Pixabay

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.

Old-fashioned armour including a helmet, furs and a scabbard

MPs need to leave their armour outside the Houses of Parliament - Credit: Pixabay

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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.

A countryside scene of a windmill with black and white cows resting in front of it

Do not operate these cows while drunk - Credit: Pixabay

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.

A home security alarm with a flashing red light on a yellow wall

A home security alarm - Credit: Pixabay

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.

A selection of nine military hats

It's technically illegal to impersonate a soldier or a police officer, even at a fancy dress party - Credit: Pixabay

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).

The picture is of a large pink and black spotted pig in a sty

Forget those plans you had to erect a pigsty in front of your house - Credit: Pixabay

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.

A chocolate birthday cake with lit candles that spell happy birthday

Think twice before you sing 'Happy birthday to you!' - Credit: Pixabay

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.

View from driver's side of an icy windscreen and snowy landscape

Do you clear every scrap of ice from your windscreen when it's cold? - Credit: Pixabay

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.

A lion's head shaped door knocker on a salmon pink wooden door

Do not knock and run away - Credit: Pixabay

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”.

A window cleaner cleans a skyscraper's top floor windows from a safety cage

It is not acceptable to ask your servant to stand on a windowsill to paint or clean it - Credit: Pixabay

13) It is illegal to order or permit any servant to stand on the sill of any window to clean or paint it.

A young woman sits on a bus seat wearing a face covering and looking at her phone

It's illegal to get on public transport if you knowingly have the plague - we've all heard a lot about THIS old law this year - Credit: Pixabay

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.

A nuclear fireball explosion

However tempting it is, do not cause any nuclear explosions - Credit: Pixabay

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.

A man washes a red rug over rocks in a flowing river

This man waited until 8.01am to beat his rug - Credit: Pixabay

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.

A woman wears a shirt, tie and trilby hat

Women in Thetford used to need men to allow them to take their hats off in council meetings - Credit: Pixabay

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.

A picture of an old-fashioned cannon in a field

Think about where you fire your cannon - Credit: Pixabay

18) It is illegal to fire a cannon within 300 yards of a dwelling.  

A group of British bank notes in denominations of five, ten and 20 pounds

It is illegal to deface bank notes or coins - Credit: Pixabay

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.


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