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Strange Laws: The laws you had no idea you could be breaking EVERY DAY – including the way you hold a salmon

The legal world is complex, and has developed over thousands of years. This means that sometimes you stumble across an old, but still active law that may seem strange in modern society.

The University of Law, the UK's longest-established specialist provider of legal education and training, has reviewed some of the world’s strangest laws, and polled 2,000 UK residents¹ to see if the nation can spot which laws are real, and which are fake.

One particular law that really baffled the nation, was the law against holding a salmon under suspicious circumstances, with two-thirds (65%) of those surveyed believing it to be fake, when in fact it is a real law that has been in place since 1986 under Parliament’s Salmon Act .

Another law that the nation struggled to identify as real, was against asking a stranger for parking change. This law has been in place for several centuries under the Vagrancy Act of 1824, and is illegal as it is seen as begging . However, more than half (60%) believed this to be a fake law. 

When it comes to weddings, three-quarters of the nation (75%) thought the law that “couples in England and Wales must specify a room within a building for the ceremony to take place – not in the open air or under a marquee” was untrue, when it is in fact a condition to gain approval of premises for civil marriage and partnership.

It’s not just strange UK laws that confused the nation too, the survey also included several real and fake laws from around the world to test the nation’s knowledge. Nearly half (45%) of those polled believed it was illegal to purposefully disturb a household during a siesta in Spain, and a third of people (33%) thought that it was illegal in Italy to purchase more than 15kg of olives per week when in fact, both of which aren’t real.

Some real-world laws also had some surprising results. Almost a third of people (33%) were correct in thinking that it is a legal offense to bring Polish potatoes into England. The law was brought in under the Polish Potatoes Order of 2004 and states “that no person shall, in the course of business, import into England potatoes which he knows to be or has reasonable cause to suspect to be Polish potatoes unless he has given written notification to an inspector.”

In Canada, a national law says that thirty-five percent of all popular music played on Canadian stations must be by native artists. However, 60% of those surveyed thought this was a fake law.

Commenting on the results, Lysette Gauna, Head of Brand & Content Marketing at The University of the Law, said: “It’s interesting to see some of the weird and wonderful laws that exist both here at home and all over the world, some of which sound as though they should be completely fictional.

“A lot of us like to think we know our facts when it comes to the law, so we wanted to build this quiz to test any potential legal experts out there on some of the more obscure laws that exist across the globe.”

What the study found

  • Two-thirds (65%) of people didn’t know that ‘suspiciously holding a salmon’ in the UK is illegal
  • Two in five people (43%) believe placing a postage stamp upside down to be an act of treason, which is in fact untrue
  • Laws from the USA, Australia, Italy, Canada and Spain also led to confusion