If you ever find yourself in the United Kingdom you might want to be careful you don’t accidentally break any of these super weird ridiculous laws and wind up in jail. So read on, and check what everyday illegal things can get you fined or worse… in jail!
Not Practicing Archery
Everyone has different hobbies and interests, but up until 1960, it was actually illegal to not practice archery in England. This law may no longer be around, but it’s without a doubt one of the strangest laws ever enforced. But why was England so hellbent on forcing all adult males to practice archery? Were they putting on the biggest Robin Hood cosplay in history?
Not quite, it actually has a lot more to do with the French. Well, to be honest, with the rest of Europe. See, for a long time, England’s favorite hobby in the world was to fight literally everybody, though its feud with the French has lasted so long that this 140 or so year break in the bickering and fighting is more of a pause.
In past days, few archers were as feared as English longbowmen, who combined great accuracy with incredible power. These massive bows could deliver arrows hundreds of yards, and were powerful enough to pierce even steel armor breastplates. As an added bonus, longbows were extremely cheap and quick to manufacture. While each sword or shield cost a significant sum and days of labor to make, a good longbow took a fraction of the cost and time.
That meant the English could outfit many, many longbowmen- a handy thing when you’re constantly at war. It was thus required that English men regularly practice with the longbow, as any one of them could be conscripted at the drop of a hat. For a time, accidentally killing someone with a longbow was also not punishable by the law.
All this went away relatively recently when the Unlawful Games Act of 1541 was replaced with the Betting and Gaming Act of 1960.
Using Your Phone To Pay At A Drive-Thru
Modern technology has created an absolute wonder in your pocket, a device capable of looking up any information you could ever desire and letting you speak in real time with any human being on the face of the earth who also has a phone.
But perhaps one of the most convenient uses of a smartphone is the ability to pay for everything from online purchases with a swipe, to stuff in the real world with just a tap. Even before the pandemic, many businesses were adding contactless pads for payment, and now they’re all the rage. You simply tap your phone to the pad and presto, your payment is complete.
But pull that stunt at a drive-thru in the UK and you’ll be facing a fine of 200 pounds- or 59.17 fish and chips. Why?
Because the UK takes a pretty stiff stance on using your phone while driving, and unless you shut down your engine or engage your parking brake, quickly tapping a phone for payment at a drive-thru window before grabbing your food still counts as using your phone while operating a motor vehicle. If the bobbies catch you doing it you can expect not just the aforementioned fine, but six points on your license.
No Getting Drunk At The Pub
Shortly after the invention of alcohol mankind invented the pub- a place to go and consume said alcohol with little to no judgment. Pubs are great, local watering holes where you can catch up with friends, your community, and catch up on all the gossip. Just don’t go thinking you can get drunk at one, because it is 100% illegal to get drunk in England at the place designed for you to get drunk at.
Per the Metropolitan Act of 1839, it’s illegal for the “keeper of a public house to permit drunkenness on-premises”. So every time you push it past getting tipsy you’re basically breaking the law, and so is the pub’s owner and bartenders.
In the US many places have policies that forbid their bartenders or wait staff from serving more alcohol to someone who is clearly drunk, but the UK codified this into law with the Licensing Act of 2003.
So next time you’re out for a bender, make sure you keep a sharp eye out for the fuzz or you may end up getting sober inside a jail cell.
Handling Fish Suspiciously
We’ve all been there- you’re walking down the street when suddenly you spot a guy coming your way. In his hands is a large bass, and he’s holding it in a most suspicious manner. Is it a weapon of some kind? Is the fish stolen? Is it even a real fish at all? You may never find out, but make the move to England and you can rest easy that nobody ever will handle fish suspiciously around you ever again- because it’s illegal.
What in the world does this law refer to exactly? You’d think it might have to do with sushi perhaps, after all is there anything more suspicious than supermarket or gas station sushi? But no, this law heralds back to the Salmon Act of 1986, when Salmon attempted to overthrow the throne and take control of Britain for themselves.
Well, not really, but that would at least be a good explanation for this weird law. Instead, the act was instituted to try and clamp down on illegal fishing, poaching, and shady trading of fresh fish.
With fish stocks declining around the world, illegal fishing was hurting the very populations that British people depend on for their beloved fish and chips, and nobody- and we mean nobody- messes with Britain’s fish and chips. Hitler tried once, look what happened to him.
The Salmon Act of 1986 punishes anyone receiving or disposing of salmon in an illegal manner, but the act has been expanded to include other fish such as trout, eels, lampreys, and smelt. We had no idea lampreys were even edible, but we’re fully behind any regulations that seek to protect wildlife populations from exploitation and overfishing.
If you live in Britain or plan on visiting, make sure that when you buy fish at the supermarket you don’t handle it suspiciously and you should stay on the right side of the law with this one.
No Police Or Military Costumes
In the US a large network of volunteers works to identify and publicly out individuals impersonating police or military personnel. Called ‘stolen valor’, the effort has been highly successful in identifying people who may have tricked even friends and family with false accounts of service, often accompanied with a hefty amount of fake military medals.
However, it’s not illegal to dress like police or military member – to an extent- as long as you’re not actively trying to fool people into thinking you are one. Hence why the two professions remain the costume of choice for halloween parties and chippendales shows.
But in the UK they take things a bit more seriously. According to the Seamen’s and Soldiers’ False Characters Act of 1906, and the Police Act of 1996, it’s illegal to pretend to be part of the military or the police. We’re not really sure just how far the UK government is willing to go to punish you if you showed up to a party as a sexy policeman, but given the punishments for handling fish suspiciously and getting drunk at a pub, we’re not sure we want to push it either.
Carrying A Plank Of Wood
Maybe you’re helping a friend with a home renovation. Maybe you’re just putting up a new bookshelf. Either way, you’re walking down the sidewalk with a large plank of wood when suddenly the rozzers are slapping handcuffs on you and dragging you to jail. You just made a big mistake, because in London it’s illegal to carry a plank of wood on the sidewalk.
According to Section 54 of the Metropolitan Police Act, you cannot carry a plank of wood along the sidewalk unless you just recently unloaded it from a van. So if you’re bringing a spare plank of wood to your neighbor, or perhaps bringing it out to throw in the bin, congratulations, because you just earned yourself a whopping 500 pound fine- or 151.52 fish and chips.
Why does London take such a harsh stance on builders? We’re not sure, but perhaps there was a spree of plank-related crime that we’re unaware of. Either way, if you plan on building some new bookshelves in your London apartment, maybe try dragging your new shelf instead of carrying it- that shouldn’t technically be illegal.
Just forget about wheels, ladders, or poles, which are also illegal to carry down a sidewalk unless you’ve just unloaded them from a van, which kind of makes us think that at some point London was plagued by a circus-related crime spree.
Knocking And Running
It’s a childhood game as old as doors- a group of children gather together, egging on one member to run up to the nearest house and give the door a good, loud knock. Then the group flees, giggling all the way until they stop and the next member builds up the courage to knock and run. If you’re on the receiving end, it’s mildly to moderately annoying, but as a child, it’s undeniably great fun.
Try it in England however and you’ll face another fine of 151.52 fish and chips- or 500 pounds.
The Metropolitan Police Act of 1839 makes the activity of ‘willfully and wantonly disturbing any inhabitant without lawful excuse’ a criminal offense, and if caught you’ll be basically giving up your allowance for the next few years.
No Lingering After A Funeral
Funerals are somber, very sad affairs. Nobody wants to attend one, but unless you cut all ties with family and friends, you’ll eventually have to. As a time-honored tradition, funerals allow loved ones to say goodbye to the deceased, and can help process the grief of tragic loss.
Typically there’s a small grave-side ceremony with a religious figure of some sort, some words of comfort, and the group may recollect some fond memories of the deceased. Then you have one final chance to say your goodbyes before the coffin is lowered into the grave and the dirt is piled up atop it. It’s a very difficult affair for most people, and the finality of it all can leave people processing it for days or weeks to come.
But don’t you dare linger around the grave site after the ceremony is officially done in England, or you’ll be answering to the bill as they come to give you a stiff fine.
Some of the laws in this episode obviously are rarely if ever enforced, but sadly this one was in fact enforced in 2015 when a man was fined 160 pounds- 48.49 fish and chips- for lingering an extra 20 minutes at his wife’s grave. No doubt caught up in the grief of his loss, he was still forced to pay the fine for a law meant to allow the gravediggers to work undisturbed.
Which was actually a valid concern for a Victorian age England that was rife with grave robbers looking to sell your deceased friends and family to unscrupulous doctors that want to practice their surgical arts. Maybe though this is a law that can officially be retired- but for now make sure you head home briskly after the casket’s in the ground or Britain will fine you for being sad.
No Cutting In Line
Nobody likes a line cutter, it’s basically one of the first things you learn not to do in preschool. Sadly, there are still plenty of people who are fully functional adults and still think the world revolves around them and cutting in line is no big deal. Try that in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland though and you’ll get slapped with a monstrous 1,000 pound fine- 303.03 fish and chips.
To be fair, the law applies to cutting in line at the subway- or tube as it’s called across the pond- and for once this is a law we’re fully behind and would love to see implemented basically anywhere. Perhaps especially at concerts and night clubs, where line jumping is habitual to the point of criminality.
Honking Your Horn
Who hasn’t honked their horn in anger after being cut off, or because the guy in front of you is too busy texting to see the green light? Try that in jolly old England, and the plod will have something to say about it.
The law expressly forbids individuals from sounding their horns ‘aggressively’ after being annoyed or frustrated. It’s also illegal to honk a horn while the vehicle is stationary, or in a built-up area between 11:30 PM and 7 AM. Violate this law and you’ll face a fine of 50 all the way to 1,000 pounds-15.15 to 303.03 fish and chips!