59 Little Known UK Laws

As part of free legal advice service we have dug up some unusual and little known UK laws that you might find useful one day.

Free Legal Advice – Business

  •  If your terms and conditions are printed on the back of an invoice they don’t apply to the contract unless the parties have dealt with each other before over a “regular course of dealings”
  • Certain transactions (for example land) have to be done by deed. To make a document a deed it must say “this is a deed” or such like. The deed must be “signed, witnessed and delivered”. Actually it is sufficient for it to be intended to be delivered even if it never was. Prior to 1989 it had to be “signed sealed delivered” (as in the Stevie Wonder song…I’m yours). The rules changed in 1989.
  • If you make a nut and bolt costing 10p and you know that it is going to be used in an airplane and the airplane falls out of the sky because the bolt broke, then the measure of damages can be totally disproportionate to the value of the faulty item provided that it was “within the contemplation of the parties” what it would be used for.
  • If you sign a document agreeing to some terms and conditions without understanding or reading that document then you are bound by those terms and conditions even though you didn’t understand them or read.
  • If you take on the lease of a building and there is VAT on the rent and the value of the lease means that it is subject to stamp duty land tax then you pay stamp duty land tax on the VAT. Yes, you actually pay tax on tax which you have had to pay.
  • If you are in business partnership with someone, then the partnership is governed by the provision of the 1895 Partnership Act still. The act says that if a partner dies or retires or leaves and the partnership is dissolved the surviving partner doesn’t automatically take over.The Partnership Act 1895 says that profits are split equally.

Free Legal Advice – Property

    • The definition of theft is “appropriation of property: belonging to another: with the intent to permanently deprive:”. Unless all elements are present then it is not theft. So, if someone you don’t even know borrows your lawnmower and leaves a note which says, “I have borrowed your lawnmower to mow my lawn and I will bring it back tomorrow”, that person hasn’t actually done anything wrong! Ironic but true. He doesn’t intend to permanently deprive you of the lawnmower because he says he is bringing it back. No offence. No point calling the police.
    • If you walk through the middle of a farmer’s field then that’s trespass. However the remedy for trespass is damages (compensation). However to get compensation you have to have suffered loss. So, if all you have done is simply walked across the grass there is nothing that Mr Farmer can do. If you damage crops then that is another matter and you are liable to be prosecuted for criminal damage. Criminal damage is another subject altogether.
    • If you buy a house with someone on a joint mortgage and they go bankrupt then you remain liable for the whole mortgage. In addition, their half of the house (if it’s worth anything) then belongs to the trustee in bankruptcy. Ironically enough the trustee in bankruptcy doesn’t have to contribute to the mortgage but can take any proceeds such as rent. Think carefully before you buy a house with anybody else if they are not of excellent financial standing.
    • If you rent a house you are usually required to pay a deposit. Since the 1st April 2009 the landlord must put this in a Tenants Deposit Scheme If the Landlord doesn’t then the legislation provides for a Tenant whose landlord hasn’t put a deposit into such a scheme to get three times the amount of the deposit as compensation. This does not mean that if the Landlord hasn’t put your £500 deposit into a scheme you get £1500 back. It means that if you have suffered any loss as a result of the Landlords failure to put the money in a scheme then he is liable to pay you compensation in respect of his failure. Please note that in English Law, to get compensation, you have to have suffered loss so that means that if you were to get £1500 compensation (for your £500 deposit) you have to have suffered £1500 worth of loss. English Law does not punish it compensates.
    • A freehold flat is virtually unmortgagable and therefore unsaleable. It is however possible to mortgage (and sell) a freehold flats in Scarborough, Glasgow and Edinburgh. It’s all to do with a freehold not benefiting from (amongst other things) the right of support. You may ask therefore, “why Scarborough, Glasgow and Edinburgh”.Quite simply because some lenders will take a commercial view on properties in those areas. With regards to Scarborough for example the list of lenders that will lend on a freehold flat in Scarborough comes down to a short list of one. For the rest of the country, freehold flats are simply unmortgageable and therefore unsaleable.
    • Any agreement to transfer a property must be in writing to be enforceable.
    • In addition to the agreement to transfer the property being in writing the actual document doing the transfer from one person to another must be a deed.
    • A sign which says “trespasses will be prosecuted” is nonsense. A prosecution is a criminal matter whereas trespass is a civil matter. You can not prosecute trespasses. You may be able to sue them for damages but you can not prosecute them.
    • If someone transfers their house to (for example) their children in anticipation of going into a nursing home then the local authority can still sell the house (even though it now belongs to somebody else) to pay for care fee’s. There is actually no timescale after which the house is safe from the local authority but the golden rule is “the longer the better”.

Free Legal Advice – Motoring

    • Speeding is what is known as “an offence of strict liability”. This means that if you travel at 31 mph in a 30 area you commit an offence. It means that there is no defence to it. It doesn’t matter that your partner is on the back seat of the car about to have a baby, you have got diarrhoea, your car is on fire and you’re trying to get it off the motorway. You still are committing an offence. You may have what is known as “mitigation” or “mitigating circumstances” but you do not have an offence. There is no defence for speeding. Mitigating circumstances simply mean that you have a reasonable excuse.
    • If a parking or has an obviously wrong date on or has the colour of your car wrong or has the registration number written incorrectly don’t think that you can necessarily get off on a technicality. If the registration number on the certificate is down as ABC123 and it should be ACB123 then Magistrates are likely to allow this under what is known as “slip rule” which allows minor errors in paperwork to be admitted. You can try it, but it won’t work.
    • Technically, there is no such thing as an accident. Have you noticed that road traffic accidents are no longer called road traffic accidents but are called RTC’s (road traffic collisions)? This is because nothing ever happens accidentally. If there has been a collision between two vehicles for example it has been caused by the negligence by either one party or the other. Sometimes they are equally to blame but, none the less, they have both been negligent.
    • There is nothing in law which says that on the road you have to drive on the left. If you decide to drive on the right however (apart from probably causing an accident) you are likely to be charged with careless, reckless, dangerous, or such like driving. There is also driving without due care and attention which is somewhat milder.
    • It is not an offence to use your mobile telephone to call the emergency services, while you are driving. Not recommended but not illegal.
    • Driving a car on tyres with a tread depth below the legal minimum of 1.6mm is an endorsable offence for which you will get three points minimum. You will also get a fine.
    • Parking fines levied in private car parks are unenforceable in law in 99.9% of circumstances. This means that if you stay in the local supermarket longer than the allotted two hours (or whatever the period is) and you get a penalty ticket, although it may threaten to take you to court if you don’t cough up, if they did take you to court they would lose.
    • If you park in an area which is “pay and display” and the machine is broken you still commit an offence, parking without paying the fee. You may be able to plead mitigation but none the less, you have committed an offence. Strictly speaking, you should find another machine and pay at that one.

Free Legal Advice – Wills & Estates

    • There is no such thing as a joint will. There is what is known as a mirror will where by two parties leave all their worldly wealth’s to each other in the same terms.
    • If you write a will leaving everything to your spouse and then get divorced that money/those assets, which you left to your spouse will pass into the residue of the estate. Similarly, if you write a will leaving everything to the cat’s home and then get married, the will is void in its entirety.
    • Beneficiaries of a will can be executors/trustees but can not be witnesses. Nor can spouses of witnesses (it’s debatable whether a non civil partner is included in this definition but legally not) can not be witnesses either.
    • A will has been written to probate on the shell of an egg and on the side of a toilet. Not recommended but it can be done.
    • A soldier’s will (about to go into action) does not need to be witnessed and can be written in pencil.
    • The shortest provisions in any will are “all to wife”. The will must still revoke earlier wills, appoint executors, be dated and be signed and witnessed.
    • If you leave somebody an asset (as apposed to the use of an asset) you can not dictate what happens to it after your death. For example you can not say that “my son can have my house but if he gets married he has got to sell it and have the money instead”. This amounts to an “instruction from the grave” and is not allowed.
    • You can not give an asset away but retain an interest in it to avoid inheritance tax. Either you give the asset away or you don’t. If you transfer your house to your children but continue to live in it rent free then the revenue are likely to view this as “a gift with reservation” and treat it as though you still owned it for inheritance tax purposes. There is no way of giving assets away but retaining control of them. And, yes, if you give all your assets away to your children they can spend them, sell them, or do whatever they like with them. That’s what giving them away means.
    • Once a will has been admitted to probate it becomes it becomes a public document. Anybody can obtain a copy from the Probate Registry for a fee of £5 providing they know the place and date of birth. For that reason it is probably a good idea, if you’re excluding somebody from your will not to mention why. That would usually be dealt with by a separate “letter of wishes”.
    • If you tear up a will by accident, and not intending to, that doesn’t revoke a will.
    • If your partner, in the middle of a heated argument tears your will, that doesn’t revoke it either.
    • If you put words in the will to the effect of “the will being un-contestable” they are of no effect. There is no such thing as an un-contestable will.
    • If you die without making a will then your assets go to survivors of your estate under the rules of intestacy. They don’t necessarily go all to your spouse. Hence it is so important to write a will.
    • If you leave something in your will to (for example) your son and your son predeceases you then the asset left to your son does not automatically go to his children (if he has any) unless the will specifically says so.
    • A will must have two witnesses who should sign their name, print their name and add their address and occupation. Both witnesses must be present when the testator (the person writing the will) or testatrix (if female) signs the will.
    • If you die, your debts do not necessarily die with you. If you leave no assets money or house then your debts can die with you. If you leave any assets etc then your creditors have first call on them to pay any debts before any beneficiaries.
    • Regardless of whether you are a trustee, a beneficiary, executor or related in some other way, if you arrange a funeral for somebody who has died, then you are responsible for paying the costs. These can sometimes be claimed back from the estate.
    • If you let the deceased person’s bank have the funeral bill, and provided there is enough money left in the deceased person’s bank account, then the bank will generally pay the funeral account without any fuss and without waiting for grant of probate.
    • If somebody you know has died any nobody is willing to arrange the funeral then rather than you do it and be stuck with the bill if there is not enough to pay for it then you should first contact the local authority (before arranging it yourself) and get the local authority to arrange it. In that case, the local authority (only if there is no money or assets) will pay for it.

Free Legal Advice – Divorce

    • If you’re getting divorced then English courts no longer apportion blame. It doesn’t matter that you actually catch your partner in a compromising situation it will not affect the financial outcome of any divorce settlement. The only time that a court will apportion blame in divorce is if conduct of one party has affected children.

Free Legal Advice – General

    • A bailiff has no right to enter into your house unless you invite them in. Once you have invited the bailiff in they can then remove goods if they have an order. You can however withdraw the consent and ask them to leave. If they don’t leave, you are entitled to call the police. They do not have the right to break in from the outside, they can only enter peaceably. Once inside, they can break internal doors to get access to goods. The moral therefore is to quite simply never let a bailiff over your doorstep.
    • If you are passing an open window and you put your hand through the window and steel a cake (or anything else for that matter) you have committed burglary. You don’t have to enter the building to commit burglary.
    • Sending abusive or explicit/obscene text messages by mobile phone is an offence under the Wireless Telegraphy Act.
    • It doesn’t matter what your legal rights may be or what you’re entitled to if your opponent doesn’t roll over or pay up, agree or whatever then you are faced with court.
    • If you take somebody to court and it is allocated to the Small Claims Track (under £10,000) and you lose then usually you will only pay any court costs and not legal costs. This is to encourage people not to instruct solicitors on small value claims and encourage mediation/settling out of court.
    • A bus driver can refuse to accept anything other than the correct fare and can also refuse to give change. You are of course at liberty not to take up the bus driver’s kind offer to take a £10 note off you for a 10p fare. In that particular case you have no absolute right to travel.
    • Some criminal convictions do not have to be disclosed after a certain period of time under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act. Criminal convictions of 2.5 years or more are never spent for the purposes of the act and are always discloseable if you are asked. Some convictions are never spent under the ROOA for certain occupations such as banking, teaching, the legal profession, accounting etc to name a few.
    • Land Law’s in England & Wales and Northern Ireland are very similar although the procedures vary somewhat. Land Law in Scotland is completely different and uses completely different terminology.
    • English solicitors can practice law in England and Wales but not in Northern Ireland or Scotland. Similarly, Scottish lawyers can only act in Scotland and Northern Irish lawyers only in Northern Ireland.
    • If fatherhood of a child is in dispute and either the father or mother refuses a DNA test then the presumption is that the test would be in favour of the person who is asking it and not in favour of the person who is denying it. There is sound logic behind this in that if the person who refuses to test has nothing to hide then they should allow it because DNA tests, although personal are not invasive or intimidating.
    • English law is the most widely quoted case law in the world. English case law is often quoted in not only English speaking countries but also other languages. It is possible to have a contract in (say) Australia which is governed by English law and for the English courts to have jurisdiction.
    • Australian, al lot of African, Canadian, Bermuda, and various other countries laws mimic those of England & Wales.
    • You do not have to “help police with their enquires”.
    • A person still commits rape even if the other party consents to having sex if, the consenting person mistakenly believes that the other person was someone else. (that may seem a bit bizarre but there is actually a case where the couple had sex in the dark and the girl thought that the rapist was her boyfriend and when she put the light on it turned out to be somebody else.)


Still looking for answers? Ask Solicitors Online Now

Use the box below to put your question to a solicitor or barrister. You will usually have an answer back within minutes.