Advert Break – Harvey Birdman: Strangest UK Laws and Court cases

Once a second-rate superhero, Harvey Birdman is now a third-rate lawyer, with bad knees and a bad-attitude, working at an upscale law firm. It’s not clear whether Harvey ever went to law school, but he definitely knows the lingo and has a nice suit – even if he still insists on wearing his superhero get-up underneath.
As defender of ‘toons in trouble’, it’s his job to keep Shaggy and Scooby-Doo out of jail for possession, represent Fred Flintstone over alleged Mafia connections and lead the trial of Yogi Bear’s sidekick Boo-Boo, suspected of being notorious eco-terrorist: ‘The Unabooboo’.

Amid the hilarious madness of Aqua Swim’s Harvey Birdman, we witness a lot of strange court cases and bizarre goings on in the world of law – albeit based in the world of Hanna-Barbera animation! In celebration of the UK DVD release of Volume 2 and the Box-set (volumes 1-3) on the 7th December, we decided to take a look at some the UK’s craziest court cases and laws….

Women
Let’s begin by looking at a subject that has divided law-making men since the dawn of time… women. Back in 1585 the general feeling was that they should have very little. Scolding was outlawed in this year, making it illegal for a woman to “cause nuisance with abusive or argumentative language”. Any women found guilty of voicing her opinions in such a manner was forced to wear a scold’s bridle – a metal cage that enclosed the entire head. While some men today may love to see this law still enforced, fortunately for women it was finally abolished in 1967 by the Criminal Law Act.

But don’t let the above law fool you into thinking that women were powerless. In fact, if a man had sex with a lady, she had the legal right to force him to marry her, or otherwise send him to prison! The Bastardy Act of 1575 similarly compelled all women with an illegitimate child to name the father so he could be forced to marry her or face prison. Men may be pleased to know that these are no longer laws, as of 1939.

Duties

We all know that the majority of men like to drink beer and eat pies. Well, in 1647 the Puritan Leader Oliver Cromwell banned Christmas for twenty six years. Anybody caught celebrating was arrested. Apparently it is still illegal to eat mince pies in the UK on the 25th December. Try telling that to your drunken Uncle.

Many other laws were put in place to help promote cleanliness and hygiene in big cities. Did you know that Londoners are not allowed to keep a pigsty in the front of their homes? Or that a bed may not be hung out of a window? It is also still an offence to beat or shake any carpet, rug or mat in any street in the Metropolitan Police District, although you are allowed to shake a doormat before 8 am.

Death

Recently, a mother had to bring her sons ashes into court to prove he was dead. The DVLA had continued to send letters, and eventually a court summons, addressed to her dead son two years after his death- even after they had been sent his death certificate. The prosecution was immediately dropped

Ashes in such a place are one thing. But don’t consider dying in parliament. That is, unsurprisingly, illegal too. But then, since 1313, you can’t wear a suit of armour either. The law was intended to ensure that debates could be carried out without participants clanking noisily. And one can only suppose the death restriction within parliament was to prevent bodies littering the room.

Transport

London Hackney Carriages (up till, shockingly, 1976) had to carry a bale of hay and a sack of oats. This was because they were originally horse drawn. However, it is still illegal for cab drivers to carry rabid dogs or corpses.

You could cycle instead; though in Middlesex (since 1888) you must dismount if a horse drawn carriage comes your way. Apparently the battle of cyclists and horse drawn carriages used to cause many problems. Anyone who cycles in central London, or any other big city, may be able to understand this!

And did you know…Royal Navy ships that enter the Port of London must provide a barrel of rum to the Constable of the Tower of London? Corruption and bribery anyone?

Owning, claiming and paying your dues

Proctor & Gamble, makers of Pringles, saved millions of pounds on VAT after the UK High Court ruled the product is not a crisp. The ‘not a crisp’ ruling exempts them from the 17.5% tax that applies to “potato crisps, potato sticks, potato puffs and similar products made from the potato, or from potato flour, or from potato starch” defined in the 1994 VAT Act.

But it’s not always big companies that use the courts to help their finances. Policewoman Tracey Ormsby, tried to claim a shocking £1.5 million in damages after being hit on the head by a pineapple that slipped off an upper shelf in a supermarket. She was eventually awarded £3,000, though the judge admitted, “I consider at best there is a very considerable degree of exaggeration in her account of her disabilities.”

Similarly, Cathy McGowan tried her luck. She was thrilled when she won a competition on the local radio, Radio Buxton, to win a Renault Clio. However, when she arrived at the local radio station to collect said car, she was presented with a toy car instead. This displeased her and she fought her case – as a result, the radio station was ordered to pay £8,000 as the judge ruled they had entered into a legally binding agreement.

This was not the case for a poor Hackney resident however. He had achieved the odd status of “mole man”, by tunnelling for forty years, by hand, under his home. He had created an extraordinary labyrinth of tunnels underneath his house, but was unfortunately ordered to pay £300,000 in damages to Hackney Council.

And finally, there was a law introduced in 1307 that still applies today, though unlikely to be enforced. If a dead whale is found on the British Coast, it legally belongs to the King and Queen. The King owns the head, and the tail belongs to the Queen- should she need the bones for her corset.


For more bizarre laws and court cases, of the cartoon kind, make sure you grab a copy of Harvey Birdman, Volume 2, or the Harvey Birdman Volumes 1-3 DVD Box-set on 7th December


Check out our Harvey Birdman Review

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