UK and Scottish Law Commissions Propose Repeal of Hundreds of Old Statutes

The Law Commissions of the UK and Scotland yesterday published their 18th in a series of proposed statute law repeals. A draft Bill containing the proposed repeals will be introduced soon into the House of Lords.

“In reforming the law, the Law Commission does not just propose new laws. It also proposes the repeal of laws that have become obsolete. The purpose of our statute law repeals work is to modernise and simplify the statute book, reduce its size and save the time of lawyers and others who use it. This in turn helps to avoid unnecessary costs. It also stops people being misled by obsolete laws that masquerade as live law. If an Act still features in the statute book and is referred to in text books, people reasonably enough assume that it must mean something.”

The Bill will repeal 260 whole Acts and part repeal 68 other Acts, including:

  • Obsolete laws relating to London workhouses including the workhouse at Wapping mentioned by Charles Dickens in The Uncommercial Traveller.
  • An Act of 1819 passed following the Peterloo Massacre of that year when 11 people were killed in Manchester.
  • Obsolete laws on the police including a law of 1839 requiring street musicians to leave the area if required to do so by irritated householders.
  • 40 Acts dating from 1700 for building local prisons across 19 counties in England and Wales .
  • 12 obsolete Acts relating to the former East India Company.
  • Obsolete laws on turnpikes dating back to a time when roads were maintained locally, with travellers having to pay a toll to cross a turnpike.

The Law Commission of the UK provides some background notes on the statute law repeals process. It has also compiled a list of legal curiosities.

Cross-posted to Library Boy.


  1. This is a great initiative, it was proabably about time to clear, in the 21st century, laws dating back to the 18th century.

    I wonder if we’d survey our own Canadian laws how many outdated statutes we may find?

  2. The Legislation Act, 2006 (s. 98), in Ontario repealed about 800 “unconsolidated, unrepealed” statutes and parts of statutes (where part might have been repealed before). Compare the list of such statutes in the RSO 1990s with the current list on e-Laws.

    It was agonizing work to let some of them go. How sure do you have to be that, for example, the Ontario-Manitoba Boundary Act, 1879, is totally spent? Apparently some of those old ones come up in land claims discussions. We had solicitors for an Ontario university submitting that several statutes from earlier this century were still applicable to the university’s status and should be maintained. (We killed most of the provisions anyway.)

    And it’s a good deal of work for people who have other things to do with more current impact. So the idea of doing it is easier to conceive than to execute.

    OF course in England they do not – or have not had, anyway – any consolidation of the statute books, as we have had since the 19th century, so having old irrelevant ones lying around could cause more of a nuisance than it does here.

    Here the problem that Simon F has been having is locating (online, anyway) the text of statutes that are unconsolidated, unrepealed but pertinent or at least interesting. Imperial statutes applicable here were one challenge – but now see e-Laws’ Links page.

    The Legislation Act, 2006, did the same thing for old regulations, but in reverse: listing the ones revoked, rather than listing the ones that survived, as the Act does with statutes. (s. 99)