Weird UK Laws: Odd Laws That Still Exist in Britain Today

When most people think of jolly old England, they tend to imagine sophisticated people well versed in etiquette who display a strong sense of grace and decorum. This article however will showcase a more unusual side to British culture by highlighting some of the strangest rules that still exist within the law books of the land. From booze drinking, suspicious salmons, gambling in libraries, and donning armour, this list will cover all of the most bizarre British laws that are both funny and shocking. Grab a spot of tea and join us as we cover all of the weird UK laws still in existence.
Westminster Palace.
Published on: 29 May 2021

From One Kingdom to Another

Before we get into it, it’s worth noting that these laws while still strange and peculiar are highly unlikely to get you a one-way ticket to the gallows. Instead, the truth of the matter is that these are antiquated laws that simply haven’t been repealed yet. While some might still be found in the Magna Carta, they aren’t typically enforced or enacted. That being said, what better place to begin our feature than by looking at how weird laws in the United Kingdom affect the animal kingdom.

Boozy Bovine Handlers

While understandable in theory, a particularly surreal law still exists in the UK that makes it illegal to be drunk and in charge of cattle. If you’re caught in the act of being simultaneously drunk whilst handling a cow, you can be jailed up for up to 51 weeks or fined £200.

These particular legislation operates under the Licensing Act of 1872, which also decrees it to be illegal to be in drunk whilst handling;

  • Cattle
  • Horses
  • A steam train
  • Firearms

Whilst we’re on the topic of cows, we’d advise you to best keep them off the street during the day if you know what’s good for you. According to the Metropolitan Streets Act of 1867/68, no cows may be driven down the roadway between the hours of 10 am and 7 pm. However, if you receive prior approval from the Police Commissioner you’re free to do as you please.

Swans

Next up in this animal-themed section of weird laws in the UK are swans. While it’s fairly common for the average Brit to come across a swan and believe it to be a majestic creature, we can safely say that we’ve never thought they would be tasty. As far back as the 12th Century, weird UK laws are in place that protects swans, which make it illegal to kill and eat a swan unless you’re royalty. This is due in part as swans in open water are owned by the British Crown.

Initially, it’s believed these laws were set in stone to prevent commoners from eating them as they were in fact a royal favorite at dinner time. These days, conservationists place surveys every year in the Thames to keep a watchful eye on their overall numbers and health, so we advise going elsewhere if you’re feeling a little peckish.

Prince of Whales

As it stands, it’s an offence to remove a beached whale or sturgeon from the coast without first offering it to a monarch. Initially believed to be a measure written into law to ensure the Queen had enough whalebones for her corsets, this law was drafted by Edward II and more than seven centuries later these animals are considered to be royal fish, and therefore royal property.

Understandably, Queen Elizabeth II politely turned down this stark gesture of loyalty when she permitted local fisherman, Robert Davies, to ‘keep his catch’. For all of their kinks and quirks, it seems the Royals aren’t keen on rotting mammal carcasses.

Heavy Petting

Speaking of royalty, have you ever wondered about how likely it is that you would cross paths with one of Her Majesty’s corgis whilst walking your beloved pup? Although the chances are relatively low, you should be aware that it’s an offence for your pet to mate with a royal pet.

Luckily for the modern dog walker, this may just result in a fine (if you don’t have permission), but once it was call enough for the death penalty. Don’t forget to bring a leash the next time you and your pet companion step out to get some fresh air.

Suspicious Salmon

Our favourite pick for weird UK laws has got to be the legalities surrounding handling a salmon suspiciously. This law is part of The Salmon Act of 1986 which makes it forbidden to carry a salmon suspiciously. Initially intended to combat illegal poaching and selling, the law has since extended to eels, trout, lampreys, and smelt. Our advice? Tread lightly the next time you walk home from a back alley fishmonger.

This Place is a Pigsty

Under the guise of the Town Police Clauses Act 1847, individuals cannot keep a pigsty at the front of their property, unless it is adequately hidden from public view. We recommend keeping your pigs out of sight and out of mind unless you fancy paying an astonishing £1,000 fine

Strict Dress Code

Shying away from the world’s creatures, let’s cast our sights on some weird UK laws that touch upon certain dress codes. While not everyone holds the view that the English are snappy dressers, they have remarkably cultivated an international image of being sophisticated. We’ll hold this view up to the light by examining legal issues surrounding costumes.

No Armour in Parliament Please

Although it might look marvellous, wearing a suit of armour in Parliament is forbidden. Another law of the quirky Edward II, this rule was put into legislation by the 1313 Statute Forbidding Bearing of Armour. Intended as a means of preventing coups and rebellion in times of political instability, today it means MPs must dress accordingly in the House of Commons.

In older times breaking this law could lead to you being beheaded. Fortunately for any MPs that might be disheartened by this, there are currently no laws preventing them from donning a plate of armour in their constituencies or from the comfort of their own homes.

Not All Fun and Games

In conjunction with the ‘Seamen’s and Soldiers’ False Characters Act’ of 1906, it is completely illegal to dress up as a soldier or policeman across the UK and impersonate them. All fancy-dress and Halloween parties fall under the jurisdiction of this act and it could even land you with a hefty custodial sentence if you’re busted. Strangely, if you feel the urge to dress up as a paramedic this is perfectly fine.

A police officer standing outside 10 Downing Street.

Keep Calm and Carry On

The British have maintained an image of being orderly, dignified, and having a stiff upper lip throughout history that sets them apart from the rest of the world. As a result, this section will explore the various weird UK laws that still exist which are concerned with proper public behaviour and conduct, and what you should and shouldn’t do outside.

Lets Go Fly a Kite

If you’ve ever seen Mary Poppins, you’d assume that the British adore flying kites. While perfectly legal and a revered national pastime, flying kites that annoy passers-by can lead to fines. Curiously if you’re caught by the Bobbies, you could be asked to pay up to £500 for this discretion, so be careful on those windy days.

This is a Library, Not a Casino

If you were planning to let off some steam by playing a casual game of blackjack at your local library, then we have some bad news. According to the Library Offences Act of 1998, you’re a criminal as causing disturbances in libraries is illegal. We’re not sure how large a fine is in store, but you can bet on a surly shushing from many a disgruntled librarian.

No Use in Beating a Dead Rug

Under the Metropolitan Police Act of 1839, it’s completely illegal to shake a dirty carpet or rug in the street before 8 am. Curiously, it’s completely fine at 8.01 am, and beating a doormat is fair game. While we’ve never heard of someone being nicked for beating a rug in broad daylight, its potential £500 fine is enough to keep us from testing the waters.

Not Ale It’s Cracked up to Be

Despite the best efforts of the British tourism industry, a lot of English people are renowned worldwide for their excessive drinking habits. Therefore, it came as a great shock to discover you’re legally not allowed to be drunk in a pub.

Harking back to the Metropolitan Act of 1839, it’s against the law for the ‘keeper of a public house to permit drunkenness on-premises’. If that wasn’t enough, the Licensing Act of 1872 also states that ‘every person found drunk…on licenced premises, shall be liable to a penalty’. Despite the threat of a £200 fine, we can’t see this law stopping drunken revellers anytime soon.

Frequently Asked Questions

While you may not be able to wear a suit of armour the next time you’re passing through the Houses of Parliament, you are perfectly allowed to gamble to your heart’s desire within the United Kingdom, both online and at a casino. If you’d like to learn more about the UK’s best casinos, be sure to check out our pick of the best gambling sites in Britain to stay best informed.

We’ve also featured the most commonly asked questions below as asked by our law-abiding readers on the topic of weird UK laws which we cordially invite you to check out. Until next time, cheerio!

What are the stupidest laws?

While intelligence is in the eye of the beholder, a lot of the laws listed above don’t make a lot of sense in modern Britain. While it’s certainly a terrible idea to drink and handle cattle, horses, trains, or firearms, the notion of illegally shaking a rug before 8 am is utterly baffling. While you can't beat a rug, you can always log on to the best UK casino sites before 8am if you like.

What things are illegal in UK?

As you can see from our comprehensive list above, there are a variety of weird laws that are ridiculous yet nonetheless illegal in the UK. For instance wearing removing a dead whale from the beach, looking after a cow while intoxicated, and cleaning a rug outdoors. If you're not allowed to gamble within the walls of a library, rest assured you can do so within the premises of the top local casino in the UK.

What kind of fine would I have to pay?

The penalty that you’d be expected to pay if you broke one of the crimes mentioned above will depend largely on the severity of the crime. If authorities caught you in the act, you could receive a fine from anywhere between £200 up to £1,000. If you’d like to make sure that where you’re gambling is legit, check out our feature on legal casinos in the UK.

Latest Guides

View All Guides