A Law Unto Themselves

By london_will Last edited 166 months ago
A Law Unto Themselves

In 1797, haberdasher John Hetherington strolled out into the streets of London to show off his new invention: the top hat. The reaction, it must be said, was not as good as it might have been - he was booed and jeered, several women fainted, and a small boy broke his arm.

He even ended up in court, and was fined £50 for "appearing on the public highway wearing upon his head a tall structure having a shining lustre and calculated to frighten timid people".

Why this didn't put a stop to the top hat there and then is beyond Londonist, but the important part is this: that by-law forbidding top hats may still lurk on the statute books.

And it isn't alone. According to the BBC, every few years the Law Commission has to sift through Londons volumes of rules and weed out the irrelevant and archic ones.

For instance, cabbies are no longer required to ask their passengers if they have smallpox, although in these times of advanced terror alerts, it's not inconceivable that this law might be brought back. We're less likely to see a reprieve for the law that says they have to carry a bale of hay to feed horses, though.

Also, if you happen to come across a dead whale on the Thames foreshore, remember that the tail belongs to the queen - she needs the bones for corsets.

And be aware that you cannot keep a pigsty in you home, enter the Houses of Parliament wearing a suit of armour (they must have had Fathers 4 Justice in the Middle Ages), or sell fish and chips on a Sunday.

The BBC reports:

John Saunders, head of the Statute Law Revision group, described his team as the "undertaker" of the law.

"We pour [sic] through the statute book, pulling out any laws or statutes that are obsolete and outdated, and add them to a Repeal Bill," he said.

"These Repeals Bills are passed by Parliament every few years, each one getting rid of hundreds of pages of law.

"This sounds like a lot, but when you consider that every year around 3,000 pages are being added to the law books, it sometimes feels like the labours of Sisyphus [the man condemned by the Gods to push a boulder up a mountain for all eternity] to even keep on an even keel."


Last Updated 10 May 2005