Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education

Front Page



UK Politics







Talking Point

In Depth

On Air

Low Graphics

Wednesday, November 17, 1999 Published at 18:32 GMT


When the law is an ass

All at sea: Sark is being forced to modernise

For more than 400 years people on the tiny Channel Island of Sark have lived under rules drawn up by their ancestors.

But now pressures of modern society are exerting themselves on the community.

The Chief Pleas, Sark's ruling body, will agree next week to change the law to allow daughters to inherit property.

Until the change it was decreed that all land had to be left to the oldest son.

[ image: Divorce: Illegal in Sark]
Divorce: Illegal in Sark
Sarkees are still waiting for the legislature to change the law to allow residents to divorce.

To many, it seems that the nether regions of the British Isles are often out of step with the times.

The people of the Isle of Man only managed to shrug off some outlandish laws at the beginning of this decade with the passing of a bill repealing 700 obsolete relics of legislation.

They included lifting the ban on crossbows, and Elizabeth I's edict that "Jesuits, Seminary Priests and other suchlike disobedient Persons" must be banished.

However, it would be wrong for mainlanders to point the finger at Sark and the Isle of Man and pat themselves on the back for being so modern.

[ image: UK licensing laws are out of step with Europe]
UK licensing laws are out of step with Europe
Every drinker knows about the antiquated licensing laws which are the laughing stock of our fellow Europeans.

But pity the poor taxi driver who, until 1976,. could be commanded by a policeman to reveal his or her bale of hay. If they did not have one in the boot, then they were clearly ill-treating their horse.

MPs taking a shine to wearing armour in Parliament are still barred from doing so under a statute of 1313.

And if visiting Burlington Arcade off Piccadilly, do not whistle or raise an umbrella as it may bring retribution from a uniformed beadle.

The Silver Cross pub in Whitehall is still the nation's only legal brothel - as far as can be established the licence granted by Charles I has never been revoked - although you can't even rent a room upstairs for a golf club dinner, let alone an orgy.

And under the Town Police Clauses Act 1847 it is an offence (carrying a penalty of £200 or 14 days jail) to:

  • Beat or shake any carpet, rug or mat in any street (except door mats beaten or shaken before 8am)

  • Fly a kite, to make use a slide on ice or snow in the street

  • To erect a washing line across any street or hang washing on it

  • Publicly to sing any profane or obscene song or ballad in any street

  • To keep any pig sty at the front of any street (unless shut off by a sufficient wall or fence); to keep any swine in or near any street so as to be a common nuisance."

    [ image: Cows: Not in the street]
    Cows: Not in the street
    In a warning to all Londoners, the Metropolitan Streets Act 1867 prohibits the driving or conducting of any cattle through any street between the hours of 10am and 7pm (except with the permission of the Commissioner of Police). The maximum penalty is a £25 fine for each head of cattle.

    That did not stop street-wise Londoner Jef Smith, 60, wearing farmers' clothes and carrying a rake, leading his sheep across Tower Bridge earlier this year.

    As a Freeman of London, he had every right to lead Clover, an eight-year-old Jacob's Cross, and Little Man, a six-month-old crossbreed over the bridge - whatever time of day.

    [ image: Jef Smith: Free to walk his sheep]
    Jef Smith: Free to walk his sheep
    Such statutes come under the eyes of The Law Commission of England and Wales, but because some are part of wider rules still relevant, it's not always easy to do away with them.

    Of course there are laws that are even beyond the reach of The Law Commission, but make the UK a brighter place for it.

    Wimbledon Common Golf Club would need more than a change in the law to back down on insisting that all players wear a pillar-box red outfit - to warn pedestrians they are at risk from flying balls.

    Advanced options | Search tips

    Back to top | BBC News Home | BBC Homepage | ©

  • UK Contents

    Northern Ireland

    Relevant Stories

    19 Aug 99†|†UK
    Protest Freeman herds sheep over Tower Bridge

    Internet Links

    The Law Commission

    The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.

    In this section

    Next steps for peace

    Blairs' surprise over baby

    Bowled over by Lord's

    Beef row 'compromise' under fire

    Hamilton 'would sell mother'

    Industry misses new trains target

    From Sport
    Quins fightback shocks Cardiff

    From Business
    Vodafone takeover battle heats up

    IRA ceasefire challenge rejected

    Thousands celebrate Asian culture

    From Sport
    Christie could get two-year ban

    From Entertainment
    Colleagues remember Compo

    Mother pleads for baby's return

    Toys withdrawn in E.coli health scare

    From Health
    Nurses role set to expand

    Israeli PM's plane in accident

    More lottery cash for grassroots

    Pro-lifers plan shock launch

    Double killer gets life

    From Health
    Cold 'cure' comes one step closer

    From UK Politics
    Straw on trial over jury reform

    Tatchell calls for rights probe into Mugabe

    Ex-spy stays out in the cold

    From UK Politics
    Blair warns Livingstone

    From Health
    Smear equipment `misses cancers'

    From Entertainment
    Boyzone star gets in Christmas spirit

    Fake bubbly warning

    Murder jury hears dead girl's diary

    From UK Politics
    Germ warfare fiasco revealed

    Blair babe triggers tabloid frenzy

    Tourists shot by mistake

    A new look for News Online