Lingering laws litter Britain's legal register
January 7, 1997
Web posted at: 8:00 a.m. EST (1300 GMT)
From Correspondent Richard Blystone
LONDON (CNN) -- Britain's law books are littered with obsolete oddities, ordinances that have long outlived whatever bizarre purpose they may once have served.
But thanks to Christopher Dyment and his Statute Law Revision Team, there aren't nearly as many as there used to be. It's their job to eliminate useless laws left on the books through oversight and neglect.
"We have to get rid of the statutory sludge," said Dyment, who tackles the past with modern computing and a healthy knowledge old English and legal Latin. "Otherwise, the problems of access, the problems of cost will ultimately be insurmountable."
Parliaments have been chalking up laws for more than seven centuries now. Dyment says he regularly dredges up laws with their roots in the 13th-century reign of Henry III.
Most go unnoticed. But many, like the law requiring all taxis to carry a bale of horse hay, seem to have no point except to make you scratch your head.
Divorce, Old English-style
Princess Diana can be thankful that Dyment and his team are looking out for statutes like the 1361 act proscribing death for adultery against the heir to the throne.
And the latest round of parliamentary housekeeping also makes it legally permissible to deep-fry fish and chips on boats in the river Thames and to move furniture at night in Glasgow, Scotland.
Some mourn the passing of even the most arcane laws, because with each layer of legislation the national character of Britain was codified. Each law that is swept aside, they say, is a piece of history and personality assigned to the rubbish heap.
But Christopher Dyment is convinced his cause is righteous. Although the Statute Law Revision Team has already eliminated more than 4,000 outmoded laws, 27,000 more still remain.
"Unless we do our job, as I say, the books become so cluttered that the laws become almost impossible to find, and very difficult to use," said Dyment. "I don't think we can afford to be nostalgic."
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