5 Crazy Laws That Can Get You Arrested in the UK

by , 26 Feb 2014

Every country has its share of weird laws, and although many of the craziest examples that people often claim to be true are actually myths or misinterpretations, there are still some that could still get you arrested if you are caught breaking them.

Police Officers On Street

The UK has some particularly crazy laws thanks to the age of its political and legal systems.

Laws have been created over the centuries by generations of politicians, judges and other public-minded authorities who often disagreed, followed their own personal obsessions, or were concerned about problems that seem both strange and outdated when we look back on them today.

Unlike many other countries, the UK doesn't have a constitution; just a collection of regulations that have been drawn up by successive governments, and a legal system that allows rulings made by idiosyncratic judges to set precedents that should be followed in future cases.

Since our legal system was built in a way that gave equal opportunities to both the great philosophical minds of the past and the eccentric crackpots of history, it is hardly surprising that among the more sensible laws there are plenty of odd little laws that don't seem to make much sense.

Despite the occasional efforts made to modernise the system and get rid of some of the more outrageous laws, many of the weirder ones remain on the books, so the crimes that they describe are still arrestable offences:

1. You can't get drunk in a pub

A lot of the strangest laws in the UK are linked to alcohol, although they often seem to focus on preventing particular kinds of behaviour while drunk, rather than trying to outlaw drinking altogether. This perhaps says something about the place of drinking in British culture.

If you do want to stay on the right side of the law when you pop down to the pub for a drink, you will need to remember to obey some pretty strange laws that have remained on the books over many years.

Perhaps the most surprising is that it is actually illegal to be drunk on licensed premises!

As well as laws banning driving a car or bike while you're under the influence there are also laws to prevent people from being in charge of a horse, cow or steam engine while drunk.

2. You can't fire a cannon within 300 yards of a house

The UK still has a law in effect that makes it illegal to fire a canon within 300 yards of someone's home, but there is no word on how kindly the police might look upon anyone firing one further away.

If you are planning an old fashioned war, you might also need to know that it is illegal to enter the Houses of Parliament wearing armour.

3. You can't handle a salmon in a suspicious way

One of the most bizarrely worded laws in the UK states that it is illegal to handle salmon under suspicious circumstances, but this isn't the only strange law relating to marine life.

It is also the law that any whale or sturgeon found on the coast belong to the Crown, although the idea that the head belongs to the King and the tail to the Queen is not correct.

Since both whales and sturgeons are now protected species, it would be illegal to catch or kill them anyway, but it was thanks to the older law that when an attempt was made to sell a 9-foot long sturgeon in 2004, the police did step in to prevent the sale because of this old law.

The Queen declined to buy the fish, and it ended up in the Natural History Museum.

4. You can't write on a banknote

Using a banknote when you are low on paper, or doodling a moustache on the Queen's face when you're bored, might be a bad idea, since it is illegal to deface a banknote in the UK.

Oddly enough, it is actually perfectly legal to destroy a banknote, but not a coin that is in current usage.

5. You can't carry a plank on the pavement

If you're planning to put up some shelves, you might need to think about how you are going to get the supplies home, since there is a law in the UK that specifically prohibits the carrying of planks down the pavement. 

While it's unlikely you'd ever actually been thrown in jail for this unless you caused some major issue or obstruction, technically it could happen - so, home delivery could be worth considering as a way of saving yourself the bother of negotiating the streets and the law! 

It is just one of the activities banned in the streets by a law that also makes kite flying, annoying games and sliding on ice illegal.


That's brilliant, EllaM. Thanks.

I'm going to make a plan for actually doing all of those things in the course of one weekend. The cannon one may prove to be a bit of a challenge!

by Feline123, 27 Feb 2014

I'm with Feline 123, our lives have been soo regulated by the State, its often too easy to forget as I get older just how much fun its been "breakin the law".
democracy my Ass! Its more a Police State here now than ever!

by gusgan, 27 Feb 2014

It is funny how in the clamour to make even new laws that attempt to regulate our lives, in an even more draconian way, no effort is ever made to remove from the statute books laws that are no longer relevant.

I like the one where it is perfectly legal to urinate on the rear left wheel of a car (cart), hackney carriage, if your are caught short but no other wheel will do!!

To my understanding this law has never been revoked. I wonder how that would settle with public decency?

by Parchester, 1 Mar 2014

5 was a new one, although most shelves are chip board or MDF so not planks rather than boards.

And can a Dean sack (or fire) a Canon in the street outside a house?

by gryan1, 3 Mar 2014
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