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It’s easier to be a lawbreaker than you’d think.
The British have some strange laws that you’ve probably never heard of, and might have broken without realising it:
According to the Metropolitan Act 1839, it is against the law for the “keeper of a public house to permit drunkenness on premises’”. Under the Licensing Act 2003, it is also illegal to serve alcoholic beverages to patrons who are already intoxicated. It is even against the law to purchase alcohol for people who are already drunk.
Despite being sung by billions of people around the world, ‘Happy Birthday’ is actually under copyright if used for commercial purposes. Warner/Chappell Music claims to own the copyright to what is widely regarded as the most famous song in the English language, which brings in around £1.2m a year in copyright fees. Because singing ‘Happy Birthday’ in a commercial venue could be classed as a performance of the song, many restaurants instruct their staff to sing alternative songs in order to avoid paying royalties.
It is illegal for any person “who shall make or use any slide upon ice and snow in any street or thoroughfare, to the common danger of the passengers” under the Metropolitan Act 1839. Any person guilty of such an offence could be liable to receive a fine of up to £500.
Sounding a horn aggressively because you are annoyed or frustrated could land you with a fine – even if a pedestrian or driver acts dangerously or is at fault in some way. It is also against the law to sound a horn whilst the vehicle is stationary or while in a built-up area between 11.30pm and 7.00am.
In response to the huge volume of war veterans and Irish and Scottish migrants who travelled to London in search of work after the Napoleonic Wars, the Vagrancy Act 1824 made it illegal for people to sleep rough or beg. However, as it is still an offence to beg in a public place, you could be in breach of the law if you are caught short of cash and ask to borrow money from a stranger.
Under the Seamen’s and Soldiers’ False Characters Act of 1906, if you attend a party dressed as a sailor you could be sent to prison for up to three months and/or fined for attempting to “personate the holder of a certificate of service or discharge.”
Under the Metropolitan Police Act 1839 it is illegal to walk along the street carrying building materials and tools. It is illegal to carry a plank of wood while walking on a pavement, and it is also against the law to “roll or carry any cask, tub, hoop, or wheel, or any ladder, plank, pole, showboard, or placard, upon any footway, except for the purpose of loading or unloading any cart or carriage, or of crossing the footway”.
During the winter months, vehicle windscreens often freeze up and become covered in ice. However, before setting off on your journey you need to remove the ice from the whole of your windscreen – not just your viewing area. Failure to do is against the law. You can also be fined for failing to clear snow from the roof before embarking on your journey.
Under the Currency and Bank Notes Act 1928, defacing money in the UK is subject to a financial penalty, although burning money is not illegal. This is because defaced banknotes can be kept in circulation, whilst burned and destroyed banknotes would obviously have no value and cannot be used to purchase goods.
Under the Metropolitan Police Act 1839, it is illegal to fly a kite in a public place, which includes parks. According to the Act, any person “who shall fly any kite or play at any game to the annoyance of the inhabitants or passengers” could be liable to receive a fine of up to £500.
Guest post written by Rob Carter. Clapham & Collinge, a leading firm of solicitors in Norwich, offers a wide range of legal services for businesses and individuals including dispute resolution, conveyancing, employment law and wills and probate.