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Last Updated: Tuesday, 18 March 2008, 17:06 GMT
Servant law among acts to be axed
Blackadder cast
Some 18th Century servants were up to no good, it seems
An 18th Century law aimed at preventing servants from organising "inside job" burglaries is to be repealed as part of a clean-up of obsolete legislation.

The 1792 Servants' Characters Act is one of 328 set to be removed or amended under the Statute Law (Repeals) Bill, to be debated in the House of Lords.

Also featured are laws on disorderly houses, poor relief, county gaols, turnpikes and the East India Company.

Justice Secretary Jack Straw said the repeals were "necessary and overdue".

One conviction

The Servants' Characters Act forbids staff from supplying false character references.

It was passed following an outcry among wealthy householders over a spate of burglaries thought to have been organised by servants with criminal tendencies.

It has only been used once in a successful prosecution in its 216 years.

Other "legal curiosities" set for repeal include a law of 1839 requiring street musicians to leave the area if required to do so by irritated householders and legislation passed in 1819, following the deaths of 11 people in Manchester's Peterloo Massacre.

Several acts relating to county gaols and the setting up of turnpike roads - which were maintained locally, with users paying tolls - are due to be axed.

Another act of 1819 allows the building of a workhouse in Wapping, east London, mentioned by Charles Dickens in his The Uncommercial Traveller sketches.

'Costly and pointless'

Mr Straw, who is also lord chancellor, said: "Laws on turnpikes, workhouses, and the Peterloo Massacre are rightly of interest to historians, but there is no need to retain them on the statute book.

"Obsolete laws can raise people's expectations and invite costly and pointless legal activity. This is a necessary and overdue parliamentary spring clean."

The bill, if passed, will repeal the whole of 260 parliamentary acts and parts of another 68.

Liberal Democrat legal affairs spokesman David Howarth said: "The government shouldn't stop with only a review of laws that are technically out of date.

"It should also look at the huge amount of legislation it introduced on actions which are already illegal but that were drafted with the sole intention of grabbing a few headlines."

Irish to repeal old English laws
10 Jan 07 |  Northern Ireland
Lib Dems seek mass repeal of laws
09 Nov 06 |  UK Politics

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