THE BLOG
23/02/2015 12:27 GMT | Updated 25/04/2015 06:59 BST

Are These Really Laws?

Wearing armour in Parliament, not dying in the House of Commons and peeing in policemen's hats...

On the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, it's timely to look at the anachronistic laws and rulings from across the centuries which are still (technically) enshrined in British law today. Or are they? There are a lot of 'laws' doing the rounds that don't actually hold up to scrutiny.

Despite constant changes to the framework and values of Britain's justice system, some quirky by-laws and rulings remain - just not as many as some people would have you believe.

For instance, there's still a 'law' which says that it is illegal to beat or shake any carpet or rug in any street (but you can shake a doormat as long as it is before 8am). It is also 'illegal' to carry a plank along a pavement, which if it had been enforced would have put a quick end to most building sites!

The London School of Economics and Political Science is in the midst of a unique project to crowdsource a written constitution for the UK for the first time in its history. As part of the project it has been looking at outdated byelaws and rulings to try and debunk the common myths and also stoke a debate about the issues which affect us today - as well as how we can bring the topics that matter most to those that have the power to change them.

The Law Commission has done a lot of sensible work weeding out the true from the false. Here's our top 10 myth-busting laws...

1. It's illegal to die in the Houses of Parliament

False. The idea behind this one seems to be that anyone who dies within the Houses of Parliament falls under the jurisdiction of the royal coroner - and would therefore be entitled to a state funeral. However, there's no trace of this according to the House of Commons. There have been at least four deaths in the Houses of Parliament (including Guy Fawkes) - none of whom received a state funeral.

2. It's against the law to enter wearing a suit of armour in Parliament

True! The 1313 Statute Forbidding Bearing of Armour forbids members of Parliament from wearing armour in the House. We dread to think how many suits are rusting away in MPs' wardrobes.

3. It's legal for a pregnant woman to relieve herself in a policeman's helmet

False. Probably one of the better known ones, but sorry - there's not a lot of evidence that this is true. In fact, it's not actually an offence to urinate in public at all (excepting certain byelaws). However short a pregnant woman might find herself, it does seem unlikely that a police officer would offer his helmet for the purpose.

4. It's illegal to eat mince pies on Christmas Day

False. There was one Christmas Day where it was illegal to eat mince pies - but it was in 1644, as it fell on a legally-mandated day of fasting. It might be better for your waistline, but it's certainly not illegal.

5. It's an act of treason to harm a swan as they belong exclusively to the Queen

A bit of both. Since the 12th Century, the Crown has held the right to ownership over all wild, unmarked mute swans in open water. Killing one of the Queen's mute swans may be unlawful, but it has never been an act of treason so far as we can tell.

6. All dead beached whales are the property of the monarch

True. Under the 14th century statute Prerogativa Regis, all whales and sturgeons found on the coast are the property of the Crown. This law is still in force, although a sturgeon caught in Swansea Bay in 2004 was declined by the royal household, and ended up in the Natural History Museum. We wonder why Her Majesty didn't want it...

7. It is still legal to kill a Scotsman within the city walls of York

False. Thankfully, it is illegal to kill a Scottish person (or any other person, for that matter) regardless of the day, time or location within a city's walls (hopefully it wasn't essential that we cleared that up).

8. It's illegal to jump a queue in Britain

True! Kind of. This is a modern day one that most Brits will appreciate - Transport for London by-laws state that it's illegal to jump a queue in a Tube station. Of course, we'd be too polite to say anything about it anyway.

9. There's a law to make Easter a fixed day in the calendar

True. The Easter Act 1928 to make Easter Sunday the second Sunday in April was successfully passed, it's just never been enforced. We'd like to know what you think about this one - what would the benefits be to schools, businesses and students if this was enforced?

10. Sticking a stamp upside down on an envelope is treason

False. The Treason Felony Act 1848 makes it an offence to do any act with the intention of deposing the monarch, but it's unlikely that putting a stamp on upside down fulfils this ruling. We checked with the Royal Mail and it is perfectly acceptable to use a stamp upside down if you so choose.

If you know of or think you know of a ridiculous or outdated byelaw, visit the online platform www.constitutionuk.com, register and share your views. LSE will choose the top 20 online contributors to help draft a formal Constitution which will be presented to Parliament in June, on the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta.

Follow the @ConstitutionUK project on Twitter