A previous blog produced a comment from one of my readers about old laws that stay on the books for years, if not decades or centuries. Steve wondered why that happened and how much detrimental effect it has on current society.
It reminded me of a story from many years ago, when the United Kingdom first introduced “Drink & Drive” laws. I should hasten to add that these laws did not encourage such practice, but were designed to curb the number of accidents caused by drunken drivers!
One of the results of the new laws was that the police started keeping better records of all drunken incidents. To everyone’s surprise, dare I say ribald amusement, those records showed that well over fifty per cent of street accidents caused by inebriation were the fault of pedestrians, and not motorists. I suppose the new laws could have been modified to allow for this previously unknown phenomenon but, I assume, someone worked out that such a move would have resulted in more people in jail than there were on the street. Even so, jailing drunken pedestrians would have reduced the number of drunk drivers because, one would assume, many of them also drove cars.
However, I digress. Back to my remembered story.
When the drink and drive laws came into effect, many farmers decided that driving their Land Rovers to the Pub had become a liability. Their answer was to ride their horse to the pub instead…..there were rumours at the time of other farm animals being used for the same purpose. The horse-riding farmers must have smiled to themselves at their creative genius in flaunting the law.
However, some enterprising policeman discovered that there was a law, written over a hundred years before, that required horses being ridden at night to be preceded by a man carrying a red flag….and… the horse had to have a red light on its rear end.
I would love to have been a fly-on-the-wall in the court room where the first case came to trial involving farmers being fined for flaunting this ancient law. Forget about justice, just trying to keep a straight face would have been a far worse punishment for the defendant, let alone the judge and the jury.
However, apart from the amusement value of such incidents, there is a serious consideration in my reader’s thoughts. How many tons of paperwork are lying around the law offices of the world, let alone the law libraries, that document laws that are totally out of date or irrelevant? Many, no doubt, contradict later laws, but are still in effect, because no-one thought to rescind them. In the case of the law about horses, red flags and rear lights, if it had been rescinded, the British farmers would still be riding their horses to the pub, and the horses would still be taking their inebriated riders home without any assistance from their passengers.
As an aside, I wonder if a horse can be prosecuted for being in charge of a drunken farmer.
The obvious answer to my question about why old laws are not rescinded is that no lawyer can make money from such an enterprise. Equally obvious, no lawyer would dream of doing something that did not make him, or her, money. In the legal profession, doing something that doesn’t make money is tantamount to a criminal offense, setting a terrible precedent.
As a final thought, there must be laws on the books in every country that are illegal, immoral and irrelevant. There must be many more that are just plain stupid, or even unhygienic.
The world cries out for a legal Samaritan – an oxymoron if ever I heard one – who will undertake the herculean charge of cleaning the books.