back to article Topless Liverpudlians confined to tropical fish stores

A survey to determine which of Britain's laws merits the "most absurd" crown has named a ban on popping your clogs in the Houses of Parliament as worthy winner. Second up was the rarely-enforced legislation which makes sticking a stamp bearing Her Maj Liz II's head upside down on an envelope an act of treason, closely followed …


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  1. Dave Burns
    Thumb Up

    Anyone got a bow?

    "In the city of York it is legal to murder a Scotsman within the ancient city walls, but only if he is carrying a bow and arrow (2 per cent)"

    Quality! now to find a bow and arrow to chuck at the first jock I see in York

  2. alain williams Silver badge

    George Orwell

    Did he get arrested when visiting France after writing Animal Farm ?

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters


    So, all the police need to do is wander around on Christmas Day looking for half-eaten mince pies, which are then (a) evidence of a crime, and (b) a source of saliva DNA.

    That'll help 'em finish the task of getting everyone on the database...

  4. Tim Spence
    Paris Hilton


    Why does the Japanese law not surprise me. Methinks all the laws on that list are not actually used anymore, except that one.

  5. Andy Hockey

    Why were they passed

    What would be interesting is to know why these laws were passed, and in what context. There must have been some reason to exclude tropical fish stores from the nudism ban, even if odd.

  6. Anonymous Coward

    Age of consent in Japan

    According to the wikipedia page on ages of consent in Asia, you're wrong about Japan, quoting: "The National age of consent in Japan is 13 for both females and males, as specified by the Japanese Penal Code Articles 176 and 177."


  7. Steven Pockett


    You appear to have missed out an explanation of the bracketed percentage figures when copying-and-pasting the story. Having read this elsewhere, pretty sure they relate to the number of people polled who thought that particular law was the most absurd. However, without explanation, it could be the number of pollees who have been convicted of said offence?

  8. Clive Galway

    @ Andy Hockey

    I think the reason for the tropical fish one is so that hula girls can be used to advertise tropical fish or something along those lines.

    I think my favorite one is that it is illegal to NOT have a bale of hay in the boot of your car (To feed the horses). Not sure if that one is still in force though.

  9. /\/\j17


    It IS the number of people convicted in the last year - which is why I can't go back to Ohio any more...

  10. Graham Dawson Silver badge

    @Clive Galway

    "I think my favorite one is that it is illegal to NOT have a bale of hay in the boot of your car (To feed the horses). Not sure if that one is still in force though."

    That was a hackney cab regulation, repealed a few years ago after a bunch of cabbies in Manchester went on a working strike by putting bales of hay in the back of their cabs.

  11. Torben Mogensen

    More on murdering Scotsmen

    I heard tell that in England, you get charged for murder if your victim dies in England, but in Scotland, you get charged if you did the deed while in Scotland.

    If this is true you could, in theory, stand on the English side of the border and shoot a man on the Scottish side and not get charged in either country -- unless the victim managed to crawl over the border before croaking.

    Even if true, I'm pretty convinced you would be charged with enough lesser crimes to make the lack of a murder charge pretty academic.

  12. James

    @Tim Spence

    I'll guarantee you the swiss piss law is enforced, it'll be part of their draconian quiet night laws that Clarkson's always harping on about.

  13. Tim Schomer

    Similar to York...

    Apparently, on a Sunday on Broad Street in Hereford it is legal to shoot a welshman with a Bow & Arrow. (D**n tempting...)

    Indeed it is still a legal requirement that every man of age to serve his country shall practice his archery for at least 1 hour per week. (hence there's a field on 'Kings Acre Road' that cannot be sold, develloped, farmed or used for any other purpose than archery practice)

  14. Spleen


    "In Scotland, if someone knocks on your door and requires the use of your toilet, you must let them enter"

    No entry for "In Scotland, it is permissible to take large amounts of money for the English and give it to students so they can smoke more pot per day" or "In Scotland, you can only discipline your child by asking them nicely to stop what they're doing, or you will be arrested"?

  15. Ian Ferguson

    British law

    This is why it's a good thing that British judges can appeal to common sense to override laws in exceptional circumstances. If somebody DOES kill a Scotsman in York, they can be assured to be going down sharpish; unlike America, where as far as I can see the letter of the law is considered more important than common sense, causing some obvious criminals to be let free on technicalities.

    On the other hand... is the penalty for treason still death in the UK? If so I fear for my head, as I was a little haphazard in stamping my Christmas cards last year.

  16. Grant


    The Japan law like I would guess, 3/4 of the other listed is just wrong. The age of consent in Japan is 13. And recently (in the 90's) they made it illegal to pay childern under the age of 18 to work in the sex industry(minimum age before was 13). Hey what did you expect from a country that ranks second behind Israel in the sex slave trade.

  17. Matt Horrocks

    Upside-down Stamps

    So what do they do, install CCTV at every post box to make sure you aren't posting "illegally stamped" letters? Or does the Post Office, upon detecting an upside-down one, rip it open in attempts to find out who sent it. Maybe they just jail the recipient as an accomplice.

  18. Ross Fleming Silver badge

    In regards to the second most ridiculous foreign law

    Wouldn't it be sufficient to cut their hands off instead? Or would that be a rather cruel punishment

  19. spezzer

    isnt it against the law...

    for web-sites to knowingly publish complete bollocks - oh hang on - didnt wikipedia get that one overturned?

  20. Rafael

    Age of consent in Japan/Wikipedia

    So there's an entry on Wikipedia just about age of consent in Asian countries?

    Web 2.0 is awesome! Beat that, Brittanica!

    We should have a El Reg's sponsored contest on the wackiest wikipedia entry.

    Just to avoid people making even crazier shit the entries should be at least two months old. And I should get a XXL El Reg t-shirt for thinking yet another way they can write stuff without doing real research :-)

  21. Matthew

    Evidence, or simply reposted PR

    This was simply a survey by UKTV Gold with prefilled in choices, presumably to get journalists to advertise them on a slow news day (and hey, it's worked). Unless people can actually show evidence of the law (there's a nice site at to research this if anyone's keen), I don't think these urban legends should be propagated as fact.

    Nigel Cawthorne certainly doesn't know what he's talking about - a state funeral requires a motion or vote in Parliament, so it's impossible for you to be "technically entitled to a state funeral".

    Going out on a limb here, but I think the law outlawing murder probably postdates any law saying you can murder a Scotsman in York (and where's the evidence for that ever being true anyway?).

    As for mince pies being illegal - all Cromwell's laws were repealed at the Restoration...

  22. Sweep

    RE: British Law

    As far as i am aware there is no crime in Britain which can be punishable by death as laws which required the death penalty for certain crimes have all been superceded, either by subsequent UK or European law.

    Don't think it applies to the armed forces though..?

  23. A J Stiles

    Number five

    Actually, I don't see anything riduculous about no. 5 -- it's just a shame it's only applicable to Scotland.

    Local authorities are already closing down public toilets right, left and centre; and in some parts of the country they even expect you to PAY for a biological necessity! And many bars and restaurants erect signs to the effect that their toilets are "for the use of customers only" (but surely going in there with the intent to use the toilet renders one a customer anyway?)

    If it's a criminal offence to urinate or defecate in public, then denial of toilet facilities should be considered "aiding and abetting".

  24. Anonymous Coward Silver badge
    Anonymous Coward


    The whale law comes in for a mention in _Moby Dick_; Wellington, as Warden(?) of the Cinque Ports seized a whale taken with much labor by locals.

    Matthew Arnold somewhere or other wrote that it was his dream that in 100 years the maxim would fall into disuse that "that a rule is an anomaly is no objection to its validity under English law."

  25. David Shaw
    Thumb Up


    having spent a few years in Switzerland making the above, I concur that the "making noise after 10pm law" exists, or is believed to. It is because the Swiss are a hard-working nation and have to get up early for work, therefore go to bed early the night before, and don't wish to be disturbed in their apartment block by the sound of flushing loos etcetera. Same goes for the "it is forbidden to wash your car on a sunday" in front of the apartment block. I hesitate to mention the name of the mad austrian/german from the last century who allegedly founded these particular rules, as under Usenet discussion rules I would then have lost the argument!.

    Switzerland remains a very nice place, pity it took me 6 months to get the last child's Swiss birth certificate due to their new voracious "Citizen total information national security database" the IT angle is that I *was* able to email the Swiss President for help, and I even got a personal reply from Mme. Micheline Calmy-Rey.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Re: Evidence, or simply reposted PR

    Amen Matthew

    The Scotsman slaughtering in York almost certainly stems from local laws of the Middle Ages - William Wallace did threaten the city of York during an expeditionary raid in 1297, and the supposed 'law' probably stems from some temporary feudal right to defend the city against incursions. I rather suspect any Judge upholding this right would be gently guided by the elbow to a place where he could have a nice long rest.

  27. Mike Norris

    Most ridiculous British laws: No. 7

    Would imply that the Queen is a mermaid...

    The implication of which is probably treason.

    I think you should get your coats.

  28. Roddy MacKenzie

    Re: British Law

    Bad news: contrary to Stephen Fry's claim, the death penalty for crimes of Treason (in all its forms) and "Piracy on the High Seas with violence" was abolished in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. "Arson in the Queen's Dockyards" ceased to be a capital crime in the Criminal Damage Act 1971

    I checked whether "knowingly and willingly aiding and abetting" a drugs gang was still a capital offence ("Treason in Time of War") - when the Right Honourable Jack Straw MP was Home Secretary he declared, while standing at the Despatches Box in the House of Commons, that "This country is at war with the drugs gangs." and went on to clarify in the rest of his oration that "with" should be interpreted as "in opposition to" rather than "as allies of" [my words, his meaning]

    I wonder whether internment for the duration of the war and total forfieture of assets still available for the next time a "celebrity" is up before the beak.

  29. DivisionBell


    Just to clear up the topless liver-birds in tropical fish shops legal issue, this law was enacted to allow ladies working in said shops to extract chosen fish for a customer from the holding aquarium without getting their blouses wet and subsequently having to work a whole day in sodden discomfort. The law-makers clearly hadn't thought through the potential delights of a day-long wet t-shirt contest but I applaud their sympathy for the well-being of Liverpool's lady tropical fish vendors.

  30. GrahamT
    Thumb Down

    Mince pies

    The mince pie "law" is complete baloney. I saw this once before and checked it. According to many of the references on the internet, (all of which looked surprisingly similar) Oliver Cromwell passed this law years after he died. Anyway, as has already been said, Commonwealth laws were repealed after the reformation in the 1660s, so not still in force.

  31. Andy Bright

    I'm astonished..

    .. that the old British law requiring every driver of a motor vehicle to have a man walking in front of said vehicle with a flag didn't make the list. Still on the books too I think, and seems to me to be quite a handy tool for dealing with sales reps on the M3.

  32. Dave Harland

    More fun with old laws

    "the old British law requiring every driver of a motor vehicle to have a man walking in front of said vehicle with a flag"

    There's a similar municipal law in Seattle, WA, USA that is still technically on the books and valid. Any motor vehicles travelling through the city must be preceeded by a man with a red flag (daytime) or red lantern (night). Speed is limited to "no faster than a horse can walk".

    Some other local doozies:

    Washington State: All lollipops are banned.

    Seattle: It is mandatory for a motorist with criminal intentions to stop at the city limits and telephone the chief of police as he is entering the town.

    Auburn: Men who deflower virgins, regardless of age or marital status, may face up to five years in jail.

    Everett: It is illegal to display a hypnotized or allegedly hypnotized person in a store window.

    Makes you wonder just why these laws are on the books, the circumstances surrouding their creation and signing.

  33. Anonymous Coward

    Not daft at all..

    "It is illegal to enter the Houses of Parliament in a suit of armour "

    Yes, of course it's bloody well illegal to enter Parliament tooled-up for slaughter. You're probably not allowed to carry a sword either. Or wear a kevlar bullet-proof jacket. Or carry a machine gun or nuclear bomb.

    Anyone who thinks that's a daft law just hasn't thought about it hard enough.

  34. Phil_B

    All lead miners beware.

    I always thought it was illegal to whistle in a lead mine. Anyone else heard that one?

  35. Fozzy

    Good 'ole OZ

    It was a tradition for law students in their last year of studies at Uni of Sydney to find the most absurd law and expliot it. Hence in the early 1970's the main highway leading into Sydney CBD came to a grinding halt as dozens of sheep were herded down a 5km stretch of the highway (this highway had been designated as a stock route in the early 1900's it had priority over all other traffic and was never repealed )

    To my knowledge it is still legal to shoot magpies in suburban areas, though only in spring.

  36. Ross

    Prevention of Terrorism Act

    The laws on armour in Parliament and killing Scotsmen in York both make sense in their historical context. At one point the border with Scotland was effectively at York. Any armed Scotsman inside the walls of York would have been an enemy combatant and fair game. If the law still exists I wonder if that means York is still legally at war with Scotland.

    And why no mention of the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005? It's got to rank up there somewhere?....

  37. Mr Larrington
    Paris Hilton

    I'm sure I read somewhere...

    ...that using the Royal Standard without Brenda's permission was at one time a capital offence. Which led to a rather uncomfortable time for a chap selling Royal Standard souvenir bedspreads...

  38. Matthew Carpenter

    In Indonesia, the penalty for masturbation is decapitation

    Which head?

  39. Anonymous Coward


    Illegal to die in Parliament ?? Could it not be said that many of the occupants are already 'Brain Dead' ???

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