Entering/exiting RPC building - dark

The Twelve "Laws" of Christmas

20 December 2016. Published by Harriet Evans, Associate

With the festive season upon us, we take a look at twelve "laws" and determine their legality with a festive twist.

In 2013, the Law Commission produced a light-hearted Report to demystify a number of common legal misconceptions. We take a look at some of the "laws" referenced in this Report, as well as some additional antiquated and modern "laws" and explore their legality with a festive twist.

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

Something to consider when posting your Christmas cards this year. The Treason Felony Act 1848 outlaws any offence with the intention of deposing the monarch. However, it seems unlikely that placing a stamp upside down would amount to this. According to a spokeswoman for Royal Mail, there is no sanction for sticking a stamp upside down.

Verdict: Myth

2. It is an offence to kill or take any game on Christmas Day

If you usually eat game for your Christmas lunch or dinner, you better make sure that you get it before Christmas Day. S.3 of the Game Act 1831 states that is an offence to: "Kill or take any game, or use any dog, gun, net or other engine or instrument for the purpose of killing or taking any game, on a Sunday or Christmas Day."

Verdict: Law

3. It is illegal to eat mince pies on Christmas Day

It may sound ludicrous but, in fact, there was one Christmas in which eating mince pies was illegal. It was the Christmas of 1644, which fell on a legally-mandated day of fasting. However, mince pies were never strictly themselves banned. Although, they were strongly disapproved of as a symbol of the immoral excesses of the festive season.

Verdict: Myth

4. It is an offence to wilfully and wantonly disturb any inhabitant by pulling or ringing any door bell

A warning to all carol singers, who may be incessantly ringing doorbells this year. S.28 of The Town Police Clauses Act 1847, applied to every “person who wilfully and wantonly disturbs any inhabitant, by pulling or ringing any door bell, or knocking at any door," and made it an offence, punishable by fine. S.28 was repealed by the Deregulation Act 2015.

Verdict: Repealed Law

5. It is illegal to sell Christmas Crackers to persons younger than 12 years

The Pyrotechnic Articles (Safety) Regulations 2015, s.31 states that an "economic operator must not make a pyrotechnic article available on the market…to a person younger than [12 years]", in relation to Christmas Crackers. Prior to these Regulations, the age restriction had been 16 but it was reduced to 12 as part of the Government's move in 2013 to abolish unnecessary laws.

Verdict: Law

6. Employers must give their employees a Christmas bonus

Christmas can be a costly affair and so a Christmas bonus could come as a very welcome treat. Whilst it is not the case in England, some countries have made it law that employers give their workers a bonus the size of one month's salary. In some countries, it is not technically a bonus but is known as the Thirteenth salary and is customarily included in work contracts. The lucky countries include Italy, France, Chile, Mexico and Brazil.

Verdict: Law in some countries but (unfortunately!) not in England.

7. It is illegal to handle fish in suspicious circumstances

If you like to start your Christmas meal with a fish course, beware of s.32 Salmon Act 1986, which makes it an offence to handle fish in suspicious circumstances. The Act used to just apply only to salmon, but it was amended to include other fish by the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009.

Verdict: Law

8. It is illegal to delay or interfere with packages

Christmas cards and packages are aplenty at this time of year. However, it is illegal under the Postal Services Act 2000 to intentionally delay or open a parcel that is not intended for you. Interfering with someone else's parcel could also constitute the tort of conversion or trespass to goods.

Verdict: Law

9. It is illegal to be drunk on licensed premises

Something to bear in mind during the Christmas party season. S.12 of the Licensing Act 1872, states that “every person found drunk…on any licensed premises, shall be liable to a penalty.” It is also an offence under the Metropolitan Police Act 1839 for a landlord to permit drunkenness or disorderly conduct on the premises. Furthermore, under the Licensing Act 2003, it is an offence to sell alcohol to a person who is drunk or to obtain alcohol for consumption by a person who is drunk.

Verdict: Law

10. Gifts to and from clients, a bribe?

A gift to or from a client could see you fall foul of s.1 or s.2 of the Bribery Act 2010, if it is intended "to induce a person to perform improperly a relevant function or activity, or to reward a person for their improper performance." However, a general thank you for previous loyalty, taking into account proportionality, may fall outside of the Act. Most firms have safeguards and policies in place to prevent bribery.

Verdict: Law

11. Anti-competitive behaviour

The Competition and Markets Authority has warned that consumers who are looking for bargains during pre-Christmas and Boxing Day sales could be short-changed by sellers who collude to fix prices. The Competition and Markets Authority is campaigning to protect consumers and prevent online retailers from breaking competition law, in light of the recent decision where an online seller of posters agreed with a competitor not to undercut each other's prices when selling on Amazon. The fines for anti-competitive activity can be up to 10% of a business' worldwide turnover.

Verdict: Law

12. It is illegal to jump the queue in a Tube ticket hall

When you're making your Christmas commute and trying to fight your way through the crowds at stations, remember that there is in fact, a law about queuing. The TFL ByeLaws brought into force under s.26 of the Greater London Authority Act 1999 state: "Any person directed by a notice to queue or asked to queue by an authorised person shall join the rear of the queue and obey the reasonable instructions of any authorised person regulating the queue."

Verdict: Law