04/04/2012 14:29 BST

'Dead Laws', Calls For Legislation Dating Back To 14th Century To Be Repealed

More than 800 dead laws, some of which date back to the 14th century, should be swept away in a bid to clear up the statute book, a report said today.

The oldest, from around 1322, regulated how animals should be taken to pay the king's debts, including details on how they should be fed, cared for and sold, and what livestock should be exempt.

It is part of one of 50 Acts which should be partly repealed along with a total of 817 whole Acts, the joint report by the Law Commission for England and Wales and the Scottish Law Commission said.

The move is the largest repeals Bill the two commissions have ever produced and is expected to be introduced into Parliament this summer.

Sir James Munby, chairman of the Law Commission for England and Wales, said: "Getting rid of statutory dead wood helps to simplify and modernise our law, making it more intelligible.

"It saves time and costs for lawyers and others who need to know what the law actually is, and makes it easier for citizens to access justice."

He added: "We are committed to ridding the statute book of meaningless provisions from days gone by and making sure our laws are relevant to the modern world."

The most recent provision recommended for the scrapheap in the 19th Statute Law (Repeals) Bill is a tax provision from 2010.

The section of the Taxation (International and Other Provisions) Act 2010 is "ineffective" and has stopped serving any useful purpose after a Taw Law Rewrite project, the report said.

Among other provisions destined for the scrapheap are an 1856 Act designed to help anyone imprisoned over debts secure their early release from jail.

The Marshalsea, on the south bank of the Thames in Southwark, London, was one of the more well-known "debtors' prisons" and a group commonly known as the Thatched House Society was set up to help secure their early release.

But as demand for its work fell, the Imprisoned Debtors Discharge Society's Act 1856 was brought in to enable the society "to apply any or all of its surplus income to such other charities as the society thought fit".

But today's report said: "The abolition of imprisonment for debt brought about by the Debtors Act 1869 appears to have prompted the demise of the society: there is no evidence to indicate that it continued thereafter.

"As a result the 1856 Act is now long spent and is ripe for repeal."

A further 16 old enactments which were passed between 1798 and 1828 to tax pints of ale, beer or bitter brewed or sold in certain parts of Scotland in order to raise funds for building roads should also be scrapped, the report said.

The laws earmarked for repeal also cover subjects from benevolent institutions and civil and criminal justice to Indian railways and turnpikes.

These include:

  • An 1800 Act to hold a lottery to win the £30,000 Pigot Diamond after its owners failed to sell it because its value, "the equal of any known diamond in Europe", was too great;
  • Some 40 Acts relating to the City of Dublin and passed by Parliament before Ireland was partitioned in 1921;
  • A 1696 Act to fund the rebuilding of St Paul's Cathedral after the Great Fire of 1666;
  • A 1710 Act to raise coal duty to pay for 50 new churches in London;
  • A total of 38 obsolete Acts relating to railway companies operating in British India and the wider East Indies.