Over the past few weeks, much controversy has been generated by the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which, among other measures, would propose new powers for police to limit protests.

If it were to pass, it would become one of numerous acts over the centuries to create new offences in the UK. While many of these are important, and provide the basis for prosecuting serious crimes, there are many laws which have become obsolete, or have been forgotten about over time.

Here are just some of the unusual offences still on the books that you could be charged with:

Divine Justice

The Offences Against the Person Act 1861 is a very serious piece of legislation, and contains offences such as murder and manslaughter that are still in force today. However, other sections of the act have fallen out of use in that time, one of which relates to religious services.

Under section 36, it is illegal in the UK to “by threats or force, obstruct or prevent or endeavour to obstruct or prevent” any religious minister from carrying out a religious service or burial. It is also illegal to arrest them under false pretences while they carry out these duties.

For this crime, anyone found guilty can be imprisoned for up to two years. This section has been recommended to be repealed, but at the time of writing, that recommendation had not yet been enacted.

Getting drunk

One of the great institutions we have missed during lockdown is the humble pub, with the opportunity to drink with our friends looking very tempting once lockdown is lifted.

But if you do so, remember, you can’t actually get drunk there!

Section 12 of the Licensing Act 1872 starts well, making it illegal to be drunk on a highway, which seems quite sensible. However, it then adds it is illegal to be drunk in any public place, building or not, and on any licensed premises, such as pubs. So for anyone getting drunk in a pub, you can technically be fined up to £200 – though this isn’t normally enforced.

The act also contains another crime you may commit after leaving the pub, with more serious consequences. Should you be drunk in charge of any horse or cattle, you can then be fined up to 40 shillings (or £2), or even face up to one month in prison!

So, if you are planning on getting some drinks in later this year, make sure you don’t have too much

Unlicensed insurance

This is an example of one law which had a very important job at the time, but has since become purposeless. The Restriction of Advertisement (War Risks Insurance) Act 1939 has its beginnings in 1937, when the government said it would not set up a national scheme to insure properties against war damage should conflict break out.

As a result, many companies began to offer insurance against war damage, with the government becoming concerned they did not have the resources to actually provide this cover. As a result, in 1939, it became illegal to advertise insurance that protects against the risk of war without first running it by the Board of Trade for approval.

Anyone found guilty of this offence risked a fine, two years imprisonment, or both. However, since 1939, the insurance trade has developed far beyond anything that had been imagined in 1939, with new regulations and consumer protection rules brought in.

As a result, the Law Commission, which reviews laws in the UK, has suggested abolishing this law, but it still remains on the books at the time of writing.

In the doghouse

The Guard Dogs Act 1975 is still in force, and does the job of ensuring that all guard dogs must be controlled by a handler, following a spate of attacks on children by unattended dogs in the 1970s.

However, a proposal to make guard dog kennels have licenses was enacted into law, but never commenced – that is, it unenforceable. If it had been, fines of up to £5,000 would have been in place.

The text is still in the statutes, however, and as with war advertisements, this section has been recommended for repeal.

There’s something fishy going on…

Whatever you do, don’t handle a fish in suspicious circumstances. Doing so is in breach of the Salmon Act 1986, which is aimed to stop salmon poaching, and trafficking in other illegally caught fish, in the UK.

Under the act, you can be fined if you believe, or it is reasonable to believe, that the fish have been caught illegally. It applies to any freshwater fish in the UK, as well as salmon, trout, eels, lampreys and smelt.

So if anyone approaches you with a good deal on fresh salmon, perhaps think twice before accepting!

Potato Problems

The humble potato has been a cause of great concern in law over the years, with the aforementioned Offences Against the Person Act 1861 making it illegal to stop anyone from buying them if they want to. While that specific law may have been abolished, potatoes are the subject of two orders made in this century.

The Polish Potatoes (Notification) (England) Order 2004 makes it illegal to import potatoes without alerting an inspector up to two days beforehand, while The Plant Health (England) Order 2015 extends this to potatoes from Portugal, Romania and Spain.

Breaking these laws, designed to stop plant pests such as ring rot being imported to the UK, carries a fine of up to £5,000.

Alarm Alert

Isn’t it annoying when someone’s alarm goes off, and there’s no one in to turn it off? Well, under the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005, that’s actually a crime.

Under the act, anyone with an alarm which makes a sound must, within 28 days of installing it, provide someone who lives nearby keys to access the property so they can turn off the alarm. A company can also be employed to be the ‘nominated key-holder’.

If you don’t give someone a key, and are found guilty under this act, you can be fined by an amount set by your local authority, or if they don’t have one, £75.