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Six laws you think are real but are actually myths

From killing swans to flip-flop driving, legal expert debunks popular law-based beliefs.

England and Wales are home to some rather unusual laws dating back to the 12th century such as the law against beating a rug before 8am or holding a salmon suspiciously.

However, many strange laws that are widely believed are often misconstrued or in some cases simply untrue.

The University of Law has teamed up with Chrissie Wolfe, ULaw alumna and Solicitor and Content Creator, to debunk the most common myths surrounding English and Welsh law in a series of videos on ULaw’s TikTok.  Chrissie is an influencer with a huge following on the channel and is making a guest appearance on the university’s TikTok.

  1. All your debts will be written off when you die

Unfortunately, when you die, any debt that you may have accrued over your lifetime will have to be paid for. In 2021, the average total debt per household in the UK was £63,112. [1]

Chrissie explained: “If you don’t have the cash in the bank, then any assets you own, like property, vehicles and designer handbags, will be used to pay off the debt, and only once it is paid can your family members legally inherit anything that has been left to them in your will.”

Watch TikTok.

  1. It is illegal to place a stamp of the Queen upside down on a letter

Although some believe it to be against the law to place a stamp of the Queen upside down when sending a letter, this isn’t quite true.

Chrissie said: “The Treason Felony Act 1848 makes it an offence to commit any act with intentions of deposing the monarch.”

While there is logic behind this interpretation of the act, it does not actually include any mention of stamps and it seems unlikely that this would be considered deposing the monarch.

  1. Pre-nups are legally binding

In England and Wales, the court is not actually compelled by law to uphold a prenuptial agreement, and legal professionals have expressed concerns for one member of the party being unfairly disadvantaged later down the line.

Pre-nups will, however, be upheld if they meet certain criteria of the Supreme Court and Law Commission. They will assess the fairness of the deal, while considering how circumstances have changed over the years, as well as the ability of the disadvantaged party to have turned down the agreement at the time.

Chrissie added: “Technically, prenuptial agreements are not legally binding, but if you have it drafted legally and fairly then it is more likely that it will be.”

  1. Driving in flip flops is illegal

Many people believe that it’s illegal to drive in flip-flops or similar style shoes, as it can be dangerous if you get the open toe caught underneath the accelerator or clutch. However, this is not actually written in law.

Chrissie explained: “Rule 97 of the Highway Code states that the footwear and clothing that you choose to wear whilst driving must not prevent you from using the controls in a correct manner, and wearing flip-flops could certainly be an infringement of that rule. So it’s always best to keep a pair of trainers in your passenger seat.”

  1. Leaving the interior car light on is illegal

Despite the common myth, it is not against the Highway Code to leave the interior light on in your car whilst driving. However, the idea does come from a genuine rule, that when on, the light must not shine out the back window or obstruct the view of anyone who may be behind you.

Despite it not being illegal, Chrissie added: “If a policeman pulls you over and tells you to turn it off, you’ve got to do.”

  1. All swans are the Queen’s property

It’s a common belief that the Queen has ownership of all unclaimed, open-water swans across the UK, but this is not quite true. While Her Majesty does own some English swans, it is only those on certain stretches of the River Thames around Windsor.

Chrissie said: "If you are thinking of killing a swan, it is no longer treason, but is still a criminal offence, which can carry a hefty penalty.”

Aruna Verma, Programme and Student Lead at The University of Law, commented: “England and Wales are known for having some unusual laws, with some dating back as far as the 1200’s, but it’s easy for information to get misconstrued over time and as it is passed between different generations.

“Many people go about their everyday lives considering the legalities of what they are doing, but it’s interesting to see how many widely considered ‘laws’ are actually false, especially surrounding driving.”

To learn more, follow The University of Law on TikTok to watch the full series.

Notes to Editors

1 25+ Essential Debt Statistics UK Edition [2022] You Need To Know (2021) (cybercrew.uk)